GARAND MARKINGS: Where has your rifle been?
I bought my first Ml Garand in 1977. It was my second rifle, and it caught my eye because I had never seen a Garand with a glossy stock before. It was in the rack of a long-gone gun shop, at the reasonable price of $300. Now, at the time, a Colt SP1 was going for the same amount of money, but it would be a couple of decades, at least, before the shooting world got hot for the Stoner.
Why was the Garand in the rack for so little? Despite being a match-conditioned rifle, with National Match rear sight, NM op rod, glass bedded and everything, it was there "because the bore is shot out." Hooked it over; it had not been abused, there were no hammer marks or tire tracks, everything seemed just fine.
I figured that shot-out or not, it was probably more accurate than I was at that time, and I could learn a lot by loading for it, and get in some big-bore practice.
So, I shelled out the cash, took it home, and got some lessons from my dad. He had carried one for a while in Europe, until he moved on to tools better-suited for his particular job, and so I got the run-down.
The first thing to do was clean it, so I did. That first patch that came out of the bore was a revelation. Even in those days before effective bore cleaners, Dad had taught me what to look for. The patch came out black, as if it had been dragged through a coal mine. So, I scrubbed it daily, taking care not to wear the crown, while I read up on things Garand.
One detail caught my eye: the forward handguard needed to not be touching the barrel. I stripped the rifle down and found that someone had manhandled the rifle, and the forward handguard was indeed touching the barrel. I re-aligned it, finally got all the gunk out of the bore, and went to the range. Yes, it could shoot better than I could, and it wasn't "shot out." Between the fouled bore and the accuracy-harming contact, the rifle probably hadn't shot well for a former owner. Now, it shot just fine. With match loads, it came as close to one MOA as my skills at the time allowed.
I also learned about WWII manufacturing processes and reloading the .30-06.
The Garand, as most of you know, took quite some time to be developed and adopted. This time allowed John Cantius Garand to work all the bugs out of it and produce a fine rifle. It was designed to be modular and interchangeable. And America at the time, being the apex of modern manufacturing, could deliver on that promise.
Despite having started so long ago, I do not have a lot of Garands on hand. So I reached out to one of the guys in my gun club who has been diligent. Rob has been working with Garands for many years now and has an extensive collection. We looked over the racks and selected a few that would be illustrative.
Let's start with your trigger assembly. With an unloaded rifle, pry the trigger guard down, pivot it away from the stock, and pull the entire assembly out. That assembly is an integrated unit and can be exchanged with any other trigger assembly on any other Garand ever made.
That meant that in a war, service units could work over Garands within sound of the fighting. A pile of battle-damaged Garands could be trucked in, and the armorers would strip them down, inspect, re-assemble and issue them back out. If you took in 100 damaged Garands, and could, in an afternoon, re-assemble 75 of them from the undamaged parts, send them back out, and ship the odds and ends of the 25 back for more work, you had 75 rifles still ready for combat. No hand-fitting, no power tools, no need for anything but, "Does this trigger assembly work? Yes? Put it in a rifle. If not, set it aside."
The Garand was lucky in this regard with just two major manufacturers, Winchester and Springfield, making them. The M1 Carbine, by comparison, had a crew of major manufacturers, and a mob of subcontractors.
Receivers had serial numbers, marked sequentially on each receiver in turn. The lower the number, the earlier it fell in the production sequence. The other parts, unlike common European practice, were not numbered to the receiver.
Now, looking at the trigger assembly in your hands, notice the numbers there. The housing itself will have a number stamped into it. This is the drawing number, and all the major components of a Garand will have such a number.
The drawing number is the blueprint number to which that part was manufactured. For instance, a number such as D28290-12-SA would indicate drawing number 28290, revision 12, made by Springfield Armory. This let the quartermaster know what parts where made when, and where. Let's say that someone discovers that (just making a fictitious number here) drawing number 10001 has a dimensional problem. Those parts were made to match that drawing, and there is a problem. It is an arduous, but simple, task to check that number on the parts involved, or rifles using those parts, and yank out of inventory those that were made to that drawing.
The new parts, with drawing number 10001-1, are correct. It would even be possible, if the dimensional problem allowed it, for the parts to be shipped back, corrected, re-stamped with the extra "-1' and re-issued.
As I said, all major parts were marked with a drawing number, and smaller parts would be marked with the manufacturer, if a subcontractor.
The CMP has the lists of drawing numbers, which are approved, which required parts removal, and which were parts that had to be modified to be correct. They will use these lists to make sure your parts are correct on your Garand, at least as far as correct function is concerned.
Why this level of marking? Because every part was made to be interchangeable. Let's say you are in a field rebuild tent in the jungle of New Guinea, with a truckload of Garands that just arrived. You really don't care who made the trigger housing you need to replace, you simply want to know that all the other parts will fit into the replacement housing you stripped off of the Garand with the barrel bent into a "U".
Unlike, say, a Mauser 98K, where the bolt will be numbered to the receiver, the Garand doesn't need that. More on that when we get to the bolts.
In no particular order, the receivers will have not just the manufacturer's name and serial number, but the drawing number as well. You can even, if you pore over such lists, determine that the drawing number and the serial number agree as to the time period in which the receiver was made. Some receivers will even have rebuild markings, indicating who (or rather, which arsenal) worked on it at some period later than when it was originally manufactured.
Going into the receiver, the bolt will have a drawing number. This is important because bolts were meant to be utterly interchangeable between rifles. Again, the guys doing the field rebuilds had no time to be messing around with headspace gauges. They might use erosion and crown gauges, if they had the time, but if a rifle worked, and hit the target within "minute of Nazi," it was going to be re-issued.
Bolts also had a heat-treat batch number. The heat-treatment of bolts was a crucial operation. If a batch of bolts was later found to be improper, due to the heat-treatment, it was again a simple if arduous process to eyeball every bolt in inventory, and check for that heat-treat batch number and pull out those with the defective batch number.
Headspacing bolts was not how Garands were made. Oh, the bolt was used to check the headspacing, but actual measurement was done to the receiver locking slot surfaces. That way, every bolt ever made, by any Garand bolt maker, would drop right into the barreled receiver. So, the European love of numbering all major parts to the last few digits of the receiver is unnecessary on the Garand.
Operating rods have drawing numbers, but they also could be sorted for proper function by means of other details. This is not something that was marked, but made obvious. One such detail is the re-cut corner of the op rod, where the spring tunnel joins the handle extension. When originally made, this proved to be a too-square corner. The rod, in heavy use, would crack right there. Post-war, op rods were modified with an end mill, to make the corner a rounded notch, relieving the stress riser. The op rod would have been re-Parkerized, and none the wiser.
Barrels can get a veritable library of markings.
First off, it is going to have a drawing number. This will be, like all the others, a number with a "D" prefix. So, you can track it by that. It will also have a manufacturing date on it, a month and year set. So, a 2-44 would be February of 1944. It will also have the manufacturer's marking, if the manufacturer desired to mark it. Some, like Winchester, were so proud of their barrels they were going to mark them even if it wasn't called for in the specifications. Springfield just stamped them "SA" for the manufacturer's code, and later barrels, such as those made in Norway (yes, the Norwegians made barrels for their Ml Garands, post-war) simply had a crown-over-letter mark. There would often be a proof mark, a simple capital letter "P", and others received the U.S. Defense Acceptance mark, an eagle with three stars. Often jokingly called the "chicken and three stars," this was done to barrels (and also stocks) once the batch had been inspected and passed.
Speaking of stocks, they also get markings. These are referred to as a "cartouche" (car-toosh), from the border that Egyptian hieroglyphs received. The markings could be a set of letters, the arsenal where the stock was first used plus the inspector's initials, the Defense Acceptance mark, or the crossed cannons of the Ordnance department. Unlike the drawing and other inspection markings, the stock cartouches used the inspector's initials as part of the stamp.
Cartouches are not as commonly encountered as other markings, in large part because they were stamped in wood. The stocks and their cartouches could be worn, sanded, re-finished, overhauled, or just rubbed flat from use. Some markings will survive such changes, because they are inside the stock. One stock we looked at was made by a subcontractor, Overton, for IHC. The numerical code is in the barrel channel, where it would be safe.
The production of Garands was ended once WWII was over. We quickly went from nine million men and women in the Armed Forces to much smaller. How much smaller? The Army was only 600,000 men prior to the Korean War. Since we had made just over four million Garands, and over six million Ml Carbines, we really didn't need to be making any more. We also could hand them out, practically willy-nilly, to allies all over the world. That's where they are coming back from, since Garands are so passe in the modern world. Not until 1950, when the Korean War sprang up. Then, the Department of Defense (recently renamed from the War Department) had Springfield begin manufacture again (it had overhauled a half-million rifles in the interim), joined by International Harvester and Harrington & Richardson in making Garands.
One question some of you might have is, "What is this National Match of which you speak?" There was a time when shooting in national competition with service rifles was a commonplace thing. You could even show up, be issued a rifle and ammunition, and shoot the match. The idea was simple: to encourage skill with the issue rifle. With any competition, there will be those who want to win, and those whose skills overmatch the vanilla-plain equipment. (And a lot of overlap in those two groups.) So, in 1953, the Chief of Ordnance directed Springfield Armory to provide match-grade rifles for the annual Camp Perry competitions. Some NM-marked parts are selected for being (or made to) the closest tolerances of the drawings. Others, like the sights, are made differently. The NM rear sight, for instance, has finer adjustments and a hooded aperture. NM-marked parts would fit a standard rifle, and, provided other details were attended to, a plain rifle with a good barrel could be made to match grade, which is what had been done to my first Garand.
Then there were the rebuilds, the new barrels, and international markings. Barrels came from many places,. so it is not unusual to see a Winchester receiver, made sometime between 1942 and 1945, with a Springfield barrel on it, dated from 1965 or 1966. One Rob and I looked at was an International Harvester with a Springfield barrel. However, the barrel had a punch mark on it, in line with the rear handguard band, and that indicated that while Springfield made the barrel, IHA installed it. And you thought things were simple, just because there were so few prime manufacturers.
The Italians, as mentioned, made parts and overhauled them. The Norwegians made barrels. The Danish modified and marked their rifles to suit their needs and practices.
And then there are other markings. One of my rifles has a "Fed Ord" etching on the receiver leg. "Federal Ordnance, didn't they re-weld cut receivers?" Yes, but this one hasn't been cut; the etching is an importation mark. The receiver is a 1944 Springfield. And they were not the only ones importing Garands. Rob has one in his collection that has a marking of "EXEL/ GARDINER MA" on the barrel. So, made here, shipped overseas, repatriated, marked as an import, and now in the rack ready to go home with you.
The last type of marking you may encounter is known as the "rack number." This is an unofficial code used in arms rooms. Rather than try to track each and every serial number to control how many rifles are present, each stock would be given a number, according to its place in the rack. These could be stamped, painted, or, on one rifle we looked at, written with a felt-tip marker on tape on the stock. A quick visual check would tell if there was one missing, or a problem with inventory. "Corporal, where is rack number 71?"
Which brings us to the subject of "Is my rifle correct?" The simple answer: yes. There were no aftermarket Ml Garand manufacturers making non-GI parts to be fed into the consumer market.
There were things that make collectors crazy, like the Italians. Italy adopted the Garand (a lot of countries did, post-war) and even went so far as to rebuild or recondition parts and rifles and make replacement parts when needed. This was done with U.S. approval, and the parts were made to be interchangeable. Now, if you are lusting after an all-correct, all-complete, Winchester-only rifle, those Italian parts are a blot on your personal landscape.
Did Winchester make all-Winchester rifles? Almost certainly. And just as certainly, DoD didn't care. If on the next rebuild, or even in the arms room on a base, the Winchester trigger assembly got swapped out for a Springfield, IHA, or H&R, the only concern was "does it work?" If it did, it was correct, stop your whining.
Oh, and while you're at it, take a look at the en-bloc clips you are using. Yes, they are also marked as to who made them. And yes, in case there was a problem from a particular maker, the War Department wanted to be able to track them.
With enough diligent work from books and online sources, you can find the origin and, within a spread, the production dates of almost every part on your Garand. It's just a matter of how OCD you want to be.
There are two modern books to get you up to speed on things Garand. Both by Scott Duff, one covers the serial numbers and markings, and is the serial number and data sheets book. The other comes in two volumes, the WWI and the Post-war Garand, and with these, you can parse out exactly when (within, say, 100,000 parts) the various bits of your Garand were made.
A historical book, but one just chock full of useful information, is Hatcher's Book of the Garand. It details the history, development, and testing of the Garand, and is up to date as of the original printing in 1948.
My father, trained on the Garand, went to a tool better suited to his job in the infantry. Early in his unit's time in the front, he was in an assault at Metz. It had been raining for more than a month, and he jumped into a muddy shell hole, taking cover from the MG42 ahead. On his first shot, his rifle stopped working. The muzzle, packed with mud from jumping into the hole, had burst on firing. He took the Garand from the GI in the shell crater who no longer needed his, and after a few shots, realized that this wasn't having the desired effect, either. He spent the next couple of clips plinking at the tile roof of a municipal building, zeroing his new rifle, before getting back to work.
Soon after, he transferred to the Combat Scouts. As much as he loved the Garand, loaded with armor piercing (AP): "It gets into stone French farmhouses," it wouldn't suit his next job, where he spent the rest of the war either on point, or working at night. For that, he favored the M3 Grease gun.
My .30 love was dampened some six years after I had bought my match Garand. My gun club was beginning to work out the details of 3-gun competition, and also was getting heavy into bowling-pin matches. We had set up a bowling-pin match, which involved running downrange and setting up 15 pins on stands, then running back and shooting them down. I dropped 15 pins with 16 shots, using my favorite match load of a Sierra 168-grain BTHP and IMR 4895.
Despite shooting so well, I was third in the match, and I wasn't even close. Second was a Colt AR-15, and first place (oh, the horror) was a shooter using a Universal Ml Carbine with the wire "Para" stock, a sidemount 2X scope, and two 30-round magazines in a "jungle clip." I put my Garand in the rack, went in search of something smaller, and have since gone on to put more than half a ton of .224" bullets down various barrels, in search of 3-gun, bowling pin, and tactical bliss.
But all this time, my Garands--the original and later ones--have waited in the rack. Someday, they may be called on. I know for sure the wait won't dampen their abilities. In checking this out, I ran a bunch of ammo through the rack-grade Garands, and was reminded of an observation I had all those years ago. When I first acquired the match Garand, the bolt face was covered in a red powdery gunk. I had assumed at the start that it was rust, and had wondered if I had made a mistake. But it scrubbed right off, and I didn't give it another thought. When I test fired my Garand for this article, I went to clean it and, lo and behold, red gunk. That was the red primer seal paint, left behind from firing.
So, red gunk is primer paint, and an indication that the rifle has been fired with arsenal-loaded ammo. Remember that.
AMMO AND GAUGES FOR THE GARAND
OK, when it comes to feeding the Garand, you have to be careful. The operating rod is long, and unsupported. If you load your own ammo and use the wrong powder, you can bend the rod. Once bent, there's no accuracy to be had, and no straightening it. So, you are limited to two bullet weights: 147/150 grains, and 168, and one powder, really, IMR 4895. This is not a burden, as those are all common; there's no real need to experiment with loads, and they will do all you want done with the Garand.
Factory ammo? Avoid any and all current factory .30-06 ammunition, unless it has been loaded specifically for the Garand, like the Hornady load. (Others also have loaded Garand-specific ammo, but double check to be certain.)
Arsenal-loaded ammo is safe, with one caveat; corrosive primers. It was not until 1955, that the United States loaded military ammo (except for M1 carbine ammo) with non-corrosive primers. So, anything made earlier and foreign ammo must be viewed with suspicion. Ammo coming from the CMP will be described as either corrosive or non-corrosive, and you can take its word for it.
All the rest of reloading is the same: trim cases, "bump" shoulders back a smidge for reliable chambering, and hand-seat primers to make sure they are below flush. The firing pin on the Garand is free-floating (no spring in the bolt), and you want to make sure the primer is below flush so you don't have problems.
The Garand barrel can only be cleaned from the muzzle, and this is a concern. If you aren't careful with the cleaning rod, you can wear the muzzle. One of my Garands (the just-barely-minute-of-zombie one) will swallow a muzzle gauge right up. But it still shoots well enough to keep using. My match Garand is still at the "zero" marking. On the other end, hard use wears the throat of a barrel, and Badger ordnance makes a gauge to measure that as well. My match Garand reads "3", which means it is just broken-in. My worst one measures "4", which is also the one that swallows the muzzle gauge. So, fair warning: You can lose more accuracy from cleaning than shooting, if you aren't careful.
And the en-bloc clips? They are very durable. Unless you literally step on one, you can't damage it. You can buy modified ones for two shots (NRA High Power use) and five (hunting), along with finding boxes of them still at gun shows.
Caption: Ammo? The CMP has ammo. You can also load your own, and if you want to know the wear on your Garand, get gauges.
Caption: My rack-grade Garand will swallow the muzzle gauge, but still shoots plenty well enough to learn and practice.
Caption: My match Garand measured a three on the erosion gauge, meaning it is just barely broken in.
Caption: One of my Garands, complete with a bandolier of the kind of ammo my Dad loved: .30-06 AP.
Caption: The "NM" marking on my Garand, indicating National Match grade op rod.
Caption: You can just make out the "NM" stamp on the rear sight assembly on my National Match Garand. If you get one of these, you are doing well.
Caption: The M1 Garand is the most common firearm used by U.S. Army reenactors as seen here at the 2018 D-Day reenactment (ddayohio.us) on the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio. (Photo by Lisa A. DeNiro)
Caption: Armorers would use the good parts from unserviceable Garands to repair the serviceable ones as shown in this photo taken at the annual D-Day reenactment in Ohio (ddayohio.us). Weapons' parts interchangeability was a great feature in I times of war and something that the Russian PPSh-41 sub machinegun production did not have due to the hand fitting of its parts. (Photo by Lisa A. DeNiro)
Caption: Contact on the front handguard can take the gilt edge off of accuracy, so if yours is matchbuilt, check this.
Caption: The lowest serial number I've seen on a Garand in the wild.
Caption: The drawing number, plus internal codes by the manufacturer, letting them know extra details about production.
Caption: A Springfield hammer, inside of a Springfield trigger housing.
Caption: And here, we have a Springfield safety in a Springfield trigger assembly. All proper.
Caption: The correct making for a trigger assembly housing, made by Springfield.
Caption: Here is a bolt, with drawing number, Springfield code, and the heat batch number on it.
Caption: This is a National Match op rod, machined to be proper with the curved "corner" so it won't crack under heavy use.
Caption: This barrel was made by Springfield in June of 1953, and it was installed into an IHA receiver by IHA. That indicated by the punch mark by the band, between the "SA" and the sideways "P" proofmark.
Caption: The Defense Acceptance mark, in the stock of an H&R.
Caption: This Overton stock was marked for use by IHC and placed safely in the barrel channel.
Caption: The Defense Acceptance mark, the eagle and three stars, on the front edge of the marking area of this barrel.
Caption: This rifle was inspected and overhauled at the Red River arsenal in July of 1966, marked with an electric pencil, and put back into inventory.
Caption: My Fed Ord marked import Garand.
Caption: The Danes so desired putting serial numbers on parts that they used a surface grinder to put a flat on this bolt. They even removed the heat treat batch number to do so.
Caption: Another import marking on a Garand, this time on the barrel.
Caption: Rack numbers might be stamped, painted, or in this case, on tape with a felt-tip pen. They'd be shoved into the storage racks by their rack number, and thus it was easy to see if they were all there. If one was missing, it was easy to determine.
Caption: Even the en-bloc clips were marked with who made them.
Caption: The Scott Duff serial number book.
Caption: A U.S. Army reenactor takes out some Germans with his M1 at the 2018 D-Dav reenactment in Ohio (ddayohio.us). Note the brass blanks ejecting from his rifle. (Photo by Lisa A. DeNiro)
Caption: Red paint from the primer sealing compound, left behind after firing.