Friday, July 1, 2011

Self-loading rifles

As the prospect of World War II loomed in Europe, designers looked at systems for self-loading or semi-automatic rifles. The most famous and successful was, and remains, the US Ml Garand. However, the Soviet Tokarev 38 and 40 were imaginative designs that impressed the Germans. The French bolt-action MAS 36 would prove a rugged and reliable weapon in some of the toughest campaigns.

The Garand
The US Rifle, Caliber .30, Ml (known as the Ml Garand), designed by John Garand of the Springfield Arsenal in the late 1920s, was adopted by the US Army in 1936. It was a robust, semi-automatic, gas-operated rifle that weighed 4.3kg/9.5lb, was 110cm/43.5in long and had an eight-round box magazine. The effective rate of fire was 16-24 rpm. Sights were set out to 1,100m/1,200yd, but the effective range was 420m/460yd. Although it had the minor tactical drawback that the clip was ejected with a loud "ping" that indicated when the last round had been fired, General George S. Patton described the Ml Garand as "the best batde implement ever devised" and "the most deadly rifle in the world". Over 5,400,000 Ml Garands were manufactured by the Springfield Armory as well as three private contractors, until production stopped in 1957. The Garand was the US infantryman's weapon throughout World War II, the Korean War and in the early years of the Vietnam War.
Armed with an M1 Garand rifle, a Gl looks at the body of a Waffen-SS soldier killed during the break out from Saint-L6 in July 1944, following the Normandy invasion.

The MAS Mle 1936
In World War II the French Army had a rugged bolt-action rifle that fired a 7.5mm round from a five-round magazine built at Manufacture d'Armes de St Etienne (MAS). It was introduced in 1936 and so was designated the Fusil MAS 36. It soldiered on in Vietnam in the 1950s and was still being used during the war in Algeria in the 1960s. It weighed 3.7kg/8.2lb and was 102cm/40in long. A version with a metal folding butt was produced for airborne forces and saw action with French paratroops at the ill-fated battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
French and Vietnamese paratroopers in dense jungle north of Dien Bien Phu in February 1954. They are armed with the MAS Mle 1936 folding butt bolt-action rifle that was developed for airborne and Alpine troops. Late models of the rifle have an extended barrel with concentric rings to permit the launching of rifle grenades.

The Tokarev SVT 38 and SVT40
It took 20 years of research before the SVT38 (Samozaryadnaya Vintovka Tokarevao 1938g -Tokarev's self-loading rifle) was adopted by the Soviet Army in 1938. The Russian arms designer Fedor Tokarev had developed the 6.5mm Avtomat in 1916, and in 1936 S. G. Simonov had produced the select-fire AVS-36. However, the Avtomat used Japanese ammunition, so it was declared obsolete, while the AVS-36 had defects, including dirt ingress and excessive muzzle blast that necessitated fitting a compensator/muzzle brake. Therefore, the SVT38 was adopted. The SVT38 was issued to the Soviet Army, but experience in the Winter War with Finland in 1939-40 led to modifications. In 1940 the updated and re-adapted new rifle went into service as the SVT40.
Tested in the Winter War with Finland in 1939-40, the Russian SVT38 rifle proved too fragile for front-line service. Limited numbers were captured by the Germans in 1941 and used by second-line and auxiliary troops on the Eastern Front.

Like the SVT38, the SVT40 or 7.62mm Samozaryadnaya Vintovka Tokarevao 1940g had a ten-round box magazine. It weighed 3.9kg/8.5lb. Nearly two million SVT40s were manufactured. When German soldiers captured them, they were quick to put them back into use against their former owners, redesignating them AlGew259(r). The drawback with the SVT40 was that it had heavy recoil. Other versions of the rifle were the SNT sniper's rifle and the fully automatic AKT40. Although it was an innovative design, it demanded too many man-hours from skilled machinists and was phased out in 1943-4.

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