Winchester’s M1 Garand gets Baptized by Fire at Bataan.

American Rifleman
A Filipino rifleman armed with an M1 Garand and a grenade appeared on the cover of the June 1942 issue of The NRA American Rifleman. (NRA photo)

December 7, 2016 marks the 75th anniversary of American’s entry into WWII. On that day the Empire of Japan launched a series of surprise attacks against US military installations throughout the Pacific, including Hawaii, Midway and the Philippines.

In the November 2016 issue of the NRA American Rifleman magazine is an outstanding article by Tom Laemlein about the iconic M1 Garand rifle’s battlefield baptism by fire with US forces fighting in the Philippines in the opening days of the war, many of whom were armed with M1’s built by Winchester Repeating Arms. 

M1 Garand

John C. Garand test fires an M1 rifle
Designer John C. Garand test fires an M1 rifle in January of 1941 at the Winchester plant in New Haven. His rifle would be in active combat before the year was out. (NRA photo)

It’s interesting to note that Winchester Repeating Arms was the only private sector manufacturer entrusted by the US Government with producing the M1 Garand during WWII. All other WWII production of the Garand was retained within government-operated arsenals.

US soldier armed with an M1 Garand rifle
A US soldier armed with an M1 Garand rifle takes position next to a half-track vehicle. His uniform and field gear is typical US issue in the opening months of WWII. (NRA photo)

At the outbreak of hostilities in late 1941 US servicemen and their Filipino allies were armed with a mixture of small arms, including the then-new M1 Garand, the Model 1903 Springfield, the Model 1917 Enfield (many of which had been produced by Winchester during WWI) and the John M. Browning-designed Model 1917 water-cooled machine gun. Fortunately all these guns were chambered for the then-standard 30-06 Springfield cartridge, simplifying what must have been a logistical nightmare in that far-flung corner of the Pacific.

American soldier mans his defensive position somewhere in Bataan
An American soldier mans his defensive position somewhere in Bataan in early 1942. Note the M1 rifle and an improvised gasoline bomb are close at hand. (NRA photo)

The initial Japanese air attacks started on December 7, 1941 (which was December 8 on the far side of the International Date Line) and US air forces in the Philippines were decimated while still on the ground. Many US naval assets suffered a similar fate.

The ground fighting on Bataan commenced in earnest around the start of the New Year. US military forces, as part of their long-standing operational plans had withdrawn from Manila to the Bataan Peninsula and to the island fortress of Corregidor in Manila Bay to fight a delaying action against the invaders while awaiting for reinforcements from the US mainland. Unfortunately those reinforcements would never arrive.

While some of the old timers were understandably leery of the new self-loading rifle in combat, thinking that it substituted “volume of fire” for “precise aimed fire,” the Garand quickly proved its worth. In fact the M1 Garand’s rate of fire was so rapid that many enemy solders initially thought they were facing American and Filipino defenders who were each armed with a machine gun.


Maj. Gen. Charles Wesson checks the sights on the first M1 Garand
Maj. Gen. Charles Wesson checks the sights on the first M1 Garand to come off the line at the Winchester factory. Designer John C. Garand is shown at right. (NRA photo)

According to Laemlein, a huge challenge facing M1 Garand users was that much of the available 30-06 ammo was either belted for machine gun use or issued in 5-round stripper clips intended for the ’03 Springfield. All such ammo needed to be laboriously removed from belts and strippers and loaded by hand, one round at a time, into the M1’s 8-round en-bloc spring steel clips that then inserted into the internal magazine cavity.

In his article Laemlein cites several original sources as to the Garand’s effectiveness in combat. “Both the Americans and Scouts carried the new semi-automatic M1 Garand rifle. Its eight-round clip and rapid fire—20 to 30 aimed shots a minute—surprised the first Japanese to come up against it,” wrote John W. Whitman in Bataan: Our Last Ditch. “The sights were designed to give good visibility at night, and it proved to be one of the most reliable and rugged rifles in military history.”

Laemlein also offers three items of interest the first from the Feb. 23, 1942, edition of The Washington Post carried a story titled “Bataan Proves Garand Worth.” A New York Times story on the very same day reported “Garand Rifle Praised by Gen. MacArthur.” In addition, during that same week, Time magazine printed an article titled “The Garand in Action” that described the M1’s early combat performance as validating MacArthur’s decision to retain the .30-’06 Sprg. cartridge for use in the Garand rifle.

WWII M1 Carbine
Along with producing a half-million M1 Garands during WWII, Winchester developed and produced the M1 Carbine as shown at right. And that’s another story we’ll explore in our WWII history series. (NRA photo)

As an official follow-up, on Feb. 24, 1942, Maj. Gen. Charles Wesson sent a telegram about the M1 rifle’s combat performance to the workers at the Winchester factory. “Here’s a message from General MacArthur praising the superiority of the Garand rifle in combat, Wesson wrote. “The General says that in the hands of our brave soldiers, the Garand operated with deadly precision even in the dust and dirt of foxhole fighting, and in many cases was in constant action for a week without cleaning or lubrication. This tribute from General MacArthur should be an inspiration for you men and women of Winchester who are now producing this remarkable weapon.”

Weary US troops with an M1 rifle
Weary US troops, including one armed with an M1 rifle listen to the radio in the closing days of combat on Bataan. (NRA photo)

Sadly, in spite of several months of heroic resistance by US and Filipino troops, in the end surrender was their only option. General Douglas MacArthur, his immediate family and senior staff were evacuated under cover of night by PT boat and then flown to Australia. Once he was safely ashore Down Under, MacArthur went on the radio, vowing to return and liberate the islands.

Newspaper Headlines
Newspaper headlines brought the stunning news of surrender to the American public.

Half-starved, out-gunned, out-manned but not out-fought, ultimately more than 100,000 US and Filipino soldiers and civilians were taken into enemy custody. In the resulting movement of these POWs to various internment camps unknown thousands died from thirst, starvation, disease, exposure, exhaustion and enemy brutality.

“As for the M1 rifle, it earned its place in U.S. military firearm history as the ‘greatest battle implement ever devised’ with its performance throughout World War II,” concludes Laemlein. “The Garand was there at the beginning, when the Japanese attacked in December 1941. It was also there at the end, returning along with Gen. Douglas MacArthur to the Philippines in October 1944, liberating the islands and fulfilling the blood oath sworn on Bataan.”

You can read the entire M1 Garand article by Tom Laemlein at:

Another outstanding article about the Winchester M1 Garands in NRA’s American Rifleman is at: 

Original article copyright NRA American Rifleman magazine, 2016. Photos are copyright NRA and/or used with permission or in the public domain. Review written by Winchester staff writer, Scott Engen. Copyright Winchester Repeating Arms, 2016. Join the NRA.