Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Last American Battle Rifle: the Springfield M14 Appreciation Blog

Development & Adoption:
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(a prototype M14 rifle)

The father of the Springfield M14 was the M1 of the same arsenal. The M1 was the brainchild of John Garand who originally designed it with a detachable box magazine, but for a few different reasons in the 1930s, the US military wanted a rifle with a fixed magazine which was flush with the stock/receiver. Thus the M1 Garand ended up with the internal 8 round en-bloc system instead. However, it was soon realised during WWII that a detachable 10 or 20 round magazine would actually be an asset for the M1 Garand. No doubt the Soviet SVT40's fielding had something to do with the military's realization that a removable magazine could be a workable feature.
In October of 1944, the Ordnance Department began a new program to transform the M1 Garand into a replacement for the M1918A2 BAR. It was hoped to create a select-fire weapon, with both a detachable box magazine and light bipod. After the war, new experimental models continued to be tested for both infantry and LMG roles.
One such design was the T20 developed by John Garand himself. Another was the T25, a similar rifle using a .30-06 cartridge shortened down to the length of a .300 SAvage. This shorter round became known as the T65 .30 light rifle cartridge and would ultimately evolve into .308 Winchester, which in turn became the military's 7.62x51mm NATO round. It had virtually the same ballistics as .30-06 but was half an inch (12mm) shorter and 10% lighter weight. This meant it fed more reliably in automatic firearms and was easier for soldiers to carry. Designer Lloyd Corbett would develop the T20 into first the T37, and later the T44. It was designed to fire the new T65 cartridge during the early 1950s. At first the new T44 prototype just used leftover T20 receivers modified accordingly, but later examples were built with dedicated shortened T44 receivers.
In 1954, the US military officially announced its desire to replace the aging M1 Garand rifle. The new firearm had to be lighter than the Garand, but retain its accuracy and range. Also, it should feature select fire capabilities, and it should simplify supply legistics by replacing multiple firearms then in service. Many manufacturers struggled to come up with possible contenders for the new service rifle and the large government contract. In 1956, trials began and there were really only three serious competitors; the T44E4 (the Springfield rifle which would become the M14), T47 (an improved T25 design), and the T48 (an FN FAL produced domestically by H&R and featuring wood furniture and the ability to be loaded via stripper clips). The trials lasted until 1957, and both the T44 and T48 successfully completed all requirements. As we all know, the T44 was chosen over the T48, not because the T44 did better, but because it was a more conservative design and an American one. Basically, the brass wanted to stick with what they already knew; the M1 Garand. The M14 was never exactly like the M1, but close enough, especially in terms of operation and handling. One of the pitches to the military claimed that since the M14 was derived from the M1 Garand, that much of the tooling already at Springfield and many of the parts could be utilized in its production. In the end though, at the very most, only 25% of the Garand's parts would work with the M14, most of which were small pins and springs. Also, as it turns out Springfield needed virtually all new tooling to build the M14 anyway.

I am a fan of the FN FAL so i want just to put this in right now. Originally the FAL was designed around a British cartridge, the .280. This cartridge was very similar to what today we might call a 6.5mm or 6.8mm Spl. So basically the Brits and FN were way ahead of their time with the FAL's original chambering. The US military didn't like the idea of going to a 'weaker' cartridge though. So a deal was struck in 1952. FN would rework the FAL to fire America's .30 light rifle cartridge and the US military would adopt the FAL. This would mean all of NATO would use the same infantry rifle and caliber. Well, FN held up their end of the deal, but as we know, the US did not. Instead the M14 was adopted. Just a side-note but one i had to drop in because one of the bigger complaints about the FAL is its caliber.

the U.S. Rifle, cal. 7.62mm, M14:
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(a military M14 infantry rifle)

The standard M14 measured 46.5" long and had a 22" barrel. It weighed around 11 lbs, 8 ozs loaded. It fired between 700 and 750 rounds per minute and was effective out to 500 yards (460 meters). It used an M1 Garand pattern bolt and short-stroke gas piston system. It was the first American service rifle to be able to fire single shots or automatically since the WWI era original M1918 BAR. Most M14s had a lightweight "GI" profile barrel, though some medium weight National Match type barrels were used by specialists. Originally, the stock was made from walnut, later from berch, and finally from fiber glass. The earliest handguards were ventilated wood, which was soon switched to fiber glass. In the end, the vents were removed and a stronger, solid handguard made standard. The rear sight was adjustable for both windage and elevation, and the front was adjustable for windage only. The flash hider, bayonet lug, and front sight base were all a single piece unit which slid onto the barrel and was tightened down with a castle nut. The M14's standard magazine was made from steel and held 20 cartridges. The weapon could also be 'topped off' with stripper clips thanks to a guide mounted to the top of the receiver. The rifle's buttplate henged and could be flipped up to use as a shoulder rest when a soldier was firing prone.

Service & Early Retirement:
In 1958, Springfield Arsenal began creation of the M14 production line and the first units were shipped to the military by the summer of the following year. Four companies were tasked with construction: Springfield, Harrington & Richardson, Winchester (Olin Mathieson Chemical Corp.), and Thompson-Ramo-Wooldridge. Initially, production was slow and deadlines continually had to be pushed back. Most soldiers did not actually get the new rifle until 1960 or 1961. Some did not even receive their new M14s until 1962. The M14 was a fine rifle, well made with forged parts and an attractive walnut or berch stock. That was part of the problem though. It took considerable time to build an M14 and a good number of parts had to be cut or assembled by hand. This at a time when many other militaries were going to stamped metal weapons such as the Cetme, G3, or AKM. 1961-1963 was the short hayday of the new battle rifle.

The military hoped the new M14 would replace four different weapons systems then currently in the field: the M1 Garand rifle, the M1 carbine, the M1918A2 BAR LMG, and the M3A1 'Greasegun' SMG. It was an adequate replacement for both the M1 Garand and carbine, but it was still too light to be used as an LMG, and was damn heavy to be used as an SMG. The military quickly learned there is no one-size-fits-all weapon.

Marine and Army units first took the new rifle into actual combat in 1961. Over the next two years, the entire military was rearmed with the M14 and it began to see more and more time in the field. In 1963, the first production contracts were completed and enough rifles had been put into general circulation to satisfy the military's immediate needs. Then though, the Vietnam War heated up, and the M14 was called on to go into heavy combat.
Honestly, it did not take long for the rifle's shortcomings to become quite apparent. While perhaps a good rifle for a different environment such as Europe; the M14 prooved to be less than ideal in the jungle. Its power and range were well liked, but it was felt to be too heavy and long. Most engagesments were fought under 150 yards, so the range aspect was most often lost anyway. The fully automatic feature was basically useless, so much so that most rifles were fitted with a lock which restricted them to semi-automatic. This was done by the military to prevent the wasting of ammo and for reasons of safety. The weapon really was uncontrollable in full-auto by all but the most skilled soldiers. If it was fired for more than a few mags without a break, it could overheat. Also, Vietnam's rain and humidity played hell with the rifle's wooden stock. It would swell and deform, which resulted in decreased accuracy and reliability. It made field stripping for basic cleaning much more time consuming and difficult. In the end, many questioned if the M14 was really even an improvement over the M1 Garand.

Not to get into the politics of it all, but by 1962-1963, some in the military began to realise and admit the M14 was perhaps a mistake. A new up and coming upstart, the M16 was gaining some pretty great reviews in the field most notably from 'Project Agile'. The M16 was many things the M14 was not: lightweight, compact, low recoiling, and just better suited for jungle warfare. It was also faster to produce and much less expensive per unit. The Hitch Report compared the M14 to the AK47, M16, and M1 Garand. It found the M14 to rank lower than the others, and concluded that the M16 was the superior combat rifle. The M14 would have been perfect in the Korean War, but it was too heavy and long for a soldier in Vietnam, and its long range was wasted there. Abruptly in mid 1963, all future orders for M14s were cancelled. If one believes this was a mistake, blame one of the M16's biggest proponents Robert McNamara. TRW's second run would be the last order completed for the US military. These rifles were built in 1964 and delivered in 1965. The M14 was phased out in favour of the XM16E1/M16A1 in Vietnam from 1965 through 1967. At the time, some soldiers did try and hang onto their M14s as long as possible. They trusted the weapon's reliability and traditional layout. It was what they were familiar with and had trained on afterall. Nevertheless, by 1968, its status was officially changed from standard issue to limited standard. The M14 would continue to be the issued rifle in Europe and for training in the USA until 1970. The Navy would continue to store the weapon onbord its vessels. It was most often employed as a line thrower. Of course M14s would remain in military stockpiles and would be used from time to time, but the glory days of the battle rifle were limited to less than a decade during the 1960s. In total, the four factories built 1,380,874 rifles. The M14 would have the second shortest service life of any US infantry rifle, right behind the Springfield M1892/96/98 Krag. The M14 was the last battle rifle in general service with the US military.
The M14 was not used on mass by many other militaries. Most NATO members and allies opted for either the FN FAL or HK G3. In 1967, Taiwan purchased the M14 production line from the United States, and from 1969 til the early 1980s, it produced over 1,000,000 of its own rifles. Named the Type 57, the Taiwanese copy of the M14 was virtually the same as the original American US GI model. It would be the largest user of the rifle outside of the USA.

the M14E2 / M14A1:
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(standard production model M14A1 rifle)

An LMG version of the M14 was tested during the mid 1950s as the T44E5, and the project got as far as it being type classified as the M15 in 1957. Basically the M15 was an M14 with a heavier barrel, extended magazine, bipod, and shoulder rest buttplate. It was designed to provide offensive suppressive fire when partnered with infantry rifles. The buttplate would end up as a standard feature on the M14 and the bipod would reappear on the M14A1 some years later. The project was scrapped in December of 1959, when tests showed the M15 to be no more effective at being an LMG, than a standard M14 if fitted with the same bipod.

While the M15 was dead, the military still desired an LMG to replace the old M1918A2 BAR. The M14 was simply too light, and had too much muzzle climb and was too uncomfortable for most soldiers to operate in full-automatic. In 1962, the M14-USAIB was an unofficial upgrade aimed at turning the platform into an LMG. The project involved many individuals and chief among them was US Army Captain Gosney, who worked on the project for years. The M14-USAIB had a pistol grip stock formed from several pieces, commercial type rubber recoil pad, muzzle compensator, the earlier ventilated handguard for cooling, and forward folding foregrip made from wood. it was fitted with a modified M2 bipod and the standard M14 sling. It was fitted with the selector switch to allow it to fire in automatic.

The Army brass soon took notice and ordered further development. Several improvements were suggested, such as a redesigned foregrip made from metal, which folded to the rear with a slim profile and that could be adjusted to fit the shooter's reach. It also wanted a rear sling swivel which could rotate 90 degrees to the left, so the weapon could be slung sideways. Other improvements the designers came up with included a stronger forearm, stronger and simpler henged buttplate, more durable rubber recoil pad, and a more secure compensator. It was given the longer M1918 BAR's sling, modified with a second hook intended to be clipped to the base of the foregrip. They changed how the stock was manufactured too. The new pattern was carved from the same blank as the normal M14, and then had a pistol grip dovetailed and cemented in place. It was stronger and easier to manufacture compared to the original M14-USAIB stock. In November of 1963, the new pattern was officially classified as M14E2, and four prototypes were sent off for testing.
The military's testing board was favourably impressed with the new pattern, and in 1964, TRW and Winchester were tasked with converting 8,350 M14 rifles into M14E2 LMGs. However, the program experienced delays and difficulties, so Springfield was ordered to step in and complete the order, which it did. A short time later, M14E2s had been delivered to soldiers fighting in Vietnam and were pressed into combat.

Feedback from soldiers on the new LMG was generally encouraging. At least, it was much better in the LMG role than the standard M14. They reported tighter groups and improved controllability in fully-automatic. This came at the cost of over a full pound added to the weapon's weight. The M14E2 weighed in at 12 lbs 12 ozs empty. The straight-line stock with pistol grip and muzzle compensator further helped tame the recoil. The folding foregrip was useful and easy to deploy, but time in the field quickly illistrated it was simply not quite strong enough for continuous heavy use. The M14E2's most disappointing component was the M2 bipod. It was not especially durable either and since it locked to the gasblock, it could effect the weapon's accuracy. Also, when folded its feet could damage the furniture. Finally, since the M14E2 used the exact same barrel as the M14, it could just as easily overheat and did not have any prevision to be quickly swapped out in the field. Only the ventilated handguard allowed for slightly faster cooling. All in all, the M14E2 was a good effort at transforming the platform into an LMG; but in the end, it was only partially successful.

Still, it was good enough that the military ordered roughly 2,000 additional conversions; and in 1966, the M14E2 was officially standardized on as the M14A1. As an aside, the vast majority of stocks were made from berch, which is stronger than walnut. Only a few hundred of the earlier stocks were carved from walnut. The M14A1 would serve on longer in Vietnam than the original M14. Of the roughly 10,000 built, a very high percentage went to Vietnam, where they all were well used. Some were still in theatre when the bulk of US troops were pulled out in 1972, while others had already been replaced by the M60. When combined with the M16A1, the M14A1 provided heavy suppressive firepower and extended a unit's effective range. The two firearms were very different from each other, and complimented one and other surprisingly well. While the M14E2 could only fire 300-350 continuous rounds maximum before it would overheat, it was excellent for penetrating dence vegetation and light armor. If nothing else, it kept the enemy heads down while the troops with M16s picked them off with aimed single shots.

Tech Specs:
Development - 1954-1958
produced - 1959-1964
Total production - 1,380,874
served - 1959-1970 general issue; til today in sniper/marksman roles
weight - 11 lbs 8 oz (12 lb 12 oz for M14E2)
length - 46.5"
barrel - 22"
Sights - Aperture rear sight, "barleycorn" front sight
Rate Of Fire - 700-750 RPM
Effective Range - 500 y

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(My M14 Clone)
A 1995, Springfield Armory Inc. build using all GI parts. It is in a GI walnut stock, with Sparrow faux M14 selector lock. Recently, I replaced the neutered FSB assembly with one that still had the bayonet lug intact.

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(My M14E2 clone)
A custom build on a Hahn rewelded H&R receiver, with an H&R parts kit. It is fitted into a NOS M14E2 stock from Treeline, with foregrip and buttplate from FredsM14stocks. Also kitted with a Fulton stabilizer, Springifled M2 bipod, and original M14E2 sling.

the Springfield Armory Inc. M1A:
With Springfield Arsenal's closing in 1968, the name came up for grabs. Elmer Balance of San Antonio, Texas appropriated the name 'Springfield' legally and changed his company's name to Springfield Armory Inc. around 1970 and moved to Devine, TX. The next step was to create a semi-auto only receiver for an M14 clone that the ATF would allow for civilian sales. It came to pass and in 1971, the new Springfield began offering the semi-auto M1A rifle. At this time, M1As were built from all surplus military M14 parts except the receiver and some semi specific parts. From the beginning, the M1A's receiver was investment cast; never forged.
In 1974, the company was sold to the Reese family and relocated to Geneseo, Illinois. From there, the M1A has been altered, upgraded, and more models offered. Use of GI parts has waxed and waned over the years as parts became available. At various times barrels and bolts were not around so commercial ones had to be used. In the mid 1980s, Springfield purchased a large number of parts kits and for about a decade rifles produced had a great many GI parts in them. Many of these parts began to dry up around 1996-1999 and by 2000, most M1As were made of commercial parts. Once in a while a GI trigger will be found or something, but Springfield has no more barrels, bolts, stocks, or op-rods.

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