THE M1 GARAND: A History Behind the Rifle

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 10.42.06 AMThe background behind this gun’s development is fascinating. Check it!

At the conclusion of World War II, the M1 Garand had garnered a well-deserved reputation as the best standardized service rifle of the conflict. Large numbers of Garands were in inventory after Victory over Japan Day, and it was assumed they were sufficient to meet the needs of our armed forces for the foreseeable future. Five years later, though, this illusion was shattered when hostilities commenced on the Korean Peninsula. Many of the M1 rifles left over from World War II were taken from storage and refurbished for issue to troops departing overseas. To augment the supply of existing rifles, the U.S. Ordnance Dept. elected to put the M1 rifle back into production. Springfield Armory ramped up its Garand production line as quickly as possible, but additional sources were needed. As was often the case in previous wars, the government turned to civilian firms for production of all manner of military items, including firearms.

On June 15, 1951, the Ordnance Dept. granted a contract for 100,000 M1 rifles to the International Harvester Co (IHC). The rifles were to be manufactured at the firm’s Evansville, Ind., plant with deliveries scheduled to begin in December 1952. The Evansville facility was built during World War II by the Republic Aviation Corp. for production of the P-47 Thunderbolt fighter. In 1945, International Harvester bought the former aircraft factory and converted it for manufacture of farm implements and refrigeration and air conditioning units.

The selection of International Harvester was, to say the least, a rather interesting choice. Although the company manufactured vehicles—including half-tracks, trucks and tractors—during World War II, the firm had never made firearms, either civilian or military. One of the major reasons behind the government’s seemingly unusual selection of International Harvester to produce M1 rifles was the plant’s geographic location. All of the more than 4 million M1 rifles that had been previously made by Springfield Armory and Winchester were manufactured within a radius of about 60 miles (the distance between Springfield, Mass., and New Haven, Conn.). This may not have seemed important in the late 1930s or early 1940s, but the dawn of the Atomic Age put it in an entirely different perspective. Since most of the established armsmakers were in the New England area, a nuclear attack on the Eastern Seaboard could conceivably cripple the manufacture of military small arms in the United States. The Department of Defense established a policy of geographic dispersion of vital defense production to mitigate vulnerability to a nuclear strike. The fact that Evansville, Ind., and Springfield, Mass., are more than 800 miles apart was seen as an important reason for selecting International Harvester to supplement Springfield Armory’s M1 rifle production.

There are three known variations of International Harvester hammer drawing numbers. The earliest were “C-5546008 IHC.” Mid-production were “IHC C5546008”, while the final were “5546008 IHC” along with a single letter-code marking.

Actually, the selection of a commercial enterprise that had never previously manufactured firearms for the military was not without precedent. During World War II, nine of the 10 prime contractors that manufactured the M1 carbine had never produced firearms before the war (the sole exception was Winchester). As was the case with the carbine manufacturers, plans were formulated for IHC to utilize a number of subcontractors to assist its Garand production program. The serial number ranges assigned to IHC for M1 rifle production were: 4,400,000–4,660,000 and 5,000,501–5,278,245.

In order to augment Springfield Armory’s and International Harvester’s M1 rifle production, a contract was also granted to the Harrington & Richardson Arms Co. on April 3, 1952, for the manufacture of 100,000 Garand rifles with additional contracts to follow.

As International Harvester began to gear up for M1 manufacture, the firm was immediately faced with a number of daunting challenges, exacerbated by the fact the company had no prior firearm-making experience. Since the company had expertise in making complex machinery, such as trucks and tractors, it assumed making rifles wouldn’t be any different. It is reported that IHC’s management planned to make the Garand rifles using standard machine tools already on hand rather than acquire specialized firearm-making machinery and to begin delivering rifles by Christmas 1952. The firm soon found this was impractical. A large number of unexpected problems arose, which caused a lot of consternation and resulted in a significant delay in starting rifle production.

Receiver heel markings on IHC-produced M1 Garand rifles varied in the format of their stamped lettering, ranging from (l. to r.): the “Arrowhead” style, to the “Postage Stamp” style, to the “Gap Letter” style, in the latter case an earlier example.

Other than the receiver, one of the most challenging M1 components to manufacture was the barrel, and production was subcontracted to the Line Material Corp. The Milwaukee-based firm was an established maker of various equipment used in the transmission of electrical and telephone lines and had a well-regarded engineering and manufacturing team. In addition to making barrels for use by International Harvester, Line Material also supplied a large number of M1 rifle barrels to various ordnance depots for use in rebuilding Garands. It was soon widely acknowledged that the company’s barrels were of the highest quality. Line Material increased its capacity by adding a second shift to meet the demand for barrels for rebuilds and to supply IHC’s fledging Garand production program. It is reported that Line Material sent some barrels directly to ordnance units in Korea for use in overhauling M1 rifles in theater.

The barrels were marked “LMR” on the right side and were stamped with the drawing number (“D653448”), month and year of production, heat lot identification, “P” (proof) and “M” (magnetic particle inspection). Except for very early examples, the barrels made under subcontract for International Harvester can be identified by a punch mark between the “LMR” and the drawing number.

The drawing numbers of major parts on International-produced Garands typically include the “IHC” denotation. Examples include (r., top to bottom): the operating rod, bolt and receiver. Harrington & Richardson made M1 Garand receivers of its own (upper l.) as well as supplying them to IHC (lower l.).

The high quality of the LMR barrels and their availability were among the few things to go smoothly with International Harvester’s M1 rifle production program. As IHC’s production problems became apparent, Springfield Armory dispatched John Garand’s chief tool and die maker, John Stimson, to Indiana to assist the company in setting up its production line. Once production was underway, a plethora of functioning glitches arose, including a serious jamming problem that completely shut down the assembly line for three months until the cause could be discovered and a remedy devised. The company received assistance from both Springfield Armory and H&R (which was concurrently manufacturing M1 rifles by that time). Harrington & Richardson engineers eventually determined that the jamming problem was due to incorrect specifications for spring-tension settings. Other problems cropped up and were solved one by one, but IHC was never able to meet its contractual production schedule.

In order to help International Harvester get into Garand production as expeditiously as possible, a number of parts were procured from other sources. Interestingly, one of those parts was the most basic component of the rifle—the receiver. In addition to receivers actually made in house by IHC, the company utilized receivers made by Springfield Armory and H&R. There were four distinct variations of M1 receivers manufactured by Springfield for International Harvester. 

SA/IHC “Arrowhead” Receivers
The first receivers made by Springfield Armory for International Harvester were in the approximate 4,440,000-4,441,100 serial number range and, for the most part, were consecutively numbered. Although marked “International Harvester,” the logo markings on the receiver were applied by Springfield Armory, and serial numbers were stamped at the IHC plant. Most of these receivers were fitted with LMR barrels, although a few were fitted with Springfield Armory-made barrels. Collectors have dubbed this variant SA/IHC receiver as the “Arrowhead” due to the layout of the nomenclature markings which, with a bit of imagination, resemble an arrowhead with a broken tip.

SA/IHC “Postage Stamp” Receivers
Soon after rifles with the SA/IHC “Arrowhead” receivers started to be assembled, the previously mentioned problem with function-firing difficulties surfaced. Once the problem was identified and solved, IHC began using unfinished Springfield Armory receivers that were on hand. Rather than stamping the receiver logo markings with “arrowhead” format, IHC chose to stamp them with a format consisting of four even lines. This variant is known as the “Postage Stamp” SA/IHC receiver. Like the “Arrowhead” receivers, these were stamped with the Springfield Armory drawing number (“D 652891”), revision numbers (“42” or “43”), and heat lot numbers indicating production by Springfield. Most of the rifles were assembled with LMR barrels (typically dated late 1952 or early 1953), but it is believed some Springfield Armory barrels (dated early 1953) were utilized as well.

SA/IHC 4.6 Million “Gap Letter” Receivers
The next variation of M1 rifle receiver supplied to International Harvester by Springfield was the so-called “Gap Letter” type in recognition of the noticeable space between the centers of the first two lines of the nomenclature logo. The reason for this change in the format of the nomenclature is not known.

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