Welcome to Episode 181 of Gun Guy Radio! This is the podcast that shines a positive light on the firearms lifestyle. I’m Your host Ryan Michad and this is your weekly dose of positive firearms talk, without the politics.This week, I’m joined by Nathaniel, a writer & firearms historian for The Firearm Blog to discuss the self loading rifle trials of the 1920’s which ultimately led to the adoption of the M1 Garand!
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SEPTEMBER 19Tth, 2015 9am TO 5pm
11311 S. SKUNK HOLLOW ROAD MOUNT CARROLL, ILLINOIS
Gonna shoot some Vintage S&W Revolvers!
Main Topic:The Garand vs. Pedersen Selfloading Rifle Trials
The below notes are taken directly from my prep for the tabletop discussion that Ian McCollum and myself were going to film, but didn’t get a chance to. I also have recorded audio of this script:
---Today on TFBTV, we're going to take a look at – and shoot – one of the great “might-have-been” rifles of the 20th Century: The Pedersen rifle.
The rifle itself we'll get to in a minute – the story of how it came to be cannot really be told without understanding what kind of man John Pedersen was. Those who know of Pedersen probably have already heard of the anecdote from John Browning that Pedersen was “the greatest firearms designer alive”. Lt. Colonel Julian S. Hatcher naturally prodded the humble Browning that surely he was the greatest, but Browning simply replied that he was an old man, and that all his best work was behind him, while Pedersen had a long, bright future ahead.
Unlike Browning, Pedersen was known as a tenacious self-promoter and salesman, and some strong evidence of this is in the origin of his military self-loading rifle. By the time Pedersen began work on his rifle in the early 1920s, it had been recognized that designing a suitable, lightweight self loading rifle for the large, high pressure rifle ammunition then in service was a daunting challenge; many in fact believed that such a weapon could not be designed at all. To meet this challenge, Pedersen reasoned that problems facing the self-loading rifle designer could be reduced if a smaller caliber than the standard .30 M1906 were used. In 1923, Pedersen pitched this idea to members of the US Army Ordnance Department, promising that if given proper accommodations and compensation, he could develop a rifle and caliber that together would make the United States the first nation to adopt a self-loading rifle as standard issue. It's a testament to Pedersen's skill in salesmanship that Ordnance, normally a highly conservative organization, accepted his terms. Pedersen was put up in a luxury suite in Springfield, Mass., paid three times the salary for an engineer, and promised a royalty of one dollar for every rifle the Army produced.
The rifle Pedersen designed fired a .276 caliber round that was half an inch shorter than the .30 M1906, and that weighed three-quarters as much. Pedersen had promised Ordnance that his rifle would use neither the recoil method of operation, nor gas-operation, both of which at the time had recognized shortcomings. Making good on this, the rifle utilized instead a semi-locked blowback mechanism, acting against the mechanical advantage of a knee joint carefully shaped and situated between the breechblock and the rear of the receiver. When the rifle fired, it would stay properly locked until the pressure reached such a point that the knee could no longer hold it, whereupon the joint would collapse against a spring, and the action would cycle. To make this action possible, Pedersen designed a lubrication process that coated the ammunition with a dry and very durable lubricant that also acted as a preservative.
Pedersen's rifle, which was completed in the fall of 1925, earned the distinction of being the first self loading rifle ever recommended for adoption by a US service board. In this he made good on his promises, however, he would not be without competition. A Springfield Armory designer named John Cantius Garand had also been working on the self loading rifle problem, and produced a weapon in 1927 that equaled in many ways Pedersen's design – and that was chambered in the existing .30 caliber. Over the next four years the two rifles would battle it out in a series of tests, but eventually, Pedersen's rifle would be the victim of its designer's own hubris. Pedersen would neglect his rifle during its most critical time in 1930. That year, he left the United States and the Army trials behind, and traveled to the United Kingdom to sell his design to the British (who, even so early as the late 1920s, fervently wished not only for a replacement for their aging Lee-Enfields, but also to adopt a common weapon with the United States). As a result, Garand's .276 caliber T3 rifle, with its designer present to troubleshoot any issues, won the favor of the US Ordnance Department. Pedersen’s hubris was twofold: He had not only neglected to be present during this trial, which chafed the egos of Army personnel, but his insistence on royalties for every rifle produced gave great incentive to the Army to choose Garand’s design over Pedersen’s if the former were found suitable for service.
Pedersen’s vision for a .276 caliber selfloader died shortly after his rifle was rejected; without the influence of the rockstar gun designer, the keystone of the .276 concept had been removed. Because Garand had shown that his rifle could be designed for either caliber, the rationale for the smaller round was weakening. Though some holdouts insisted the .30 caliber was superior, many acknowledged the improvement the .276 represented; it simply wasn’t enough to justify such a logistical undertaking, and there were fears of having multiple calibers in service. In the end, conservatism won the day, and Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur’s rejection of the .276 caliber in 1932 was merely a formalization of a decision that had already been made by the Ordnance Department: The next US rifle would be in the existing .30 caliber.
---1. The Chronology: Two nations were “serious” about selfloading rifle development in the early part of the 20th Century. The French, who made a tremendous effort to perfect a selfloading rifle but wouldn’t successfully replace their bolt-action weapons until the late 1950, and the humble military of that New World economic powerhouse, the United States. The US Army began looking at selfloading rifles seriously in 1902, or earlier, while the 1903 Springfield was still in development. Chief of Ordnance William Crozier remarked that future small arms would be semiautomatic. Between 1902 and 1933, the US Army tested hundreds of designs from all around the world, including Czechoslovakia, France, China, and elsewhere. The Americans also encouraged domestic development; Congress even passed a law providing for free bored, rifled, reamed, and chambered .30 caliber barrels to domestic firearms designers for the express purpose of encouraging selfloading rifle development. John Garand began work at Springfield Armory on selfloading rifles in 1919, originally working on a primer-actuated design. In 1923, Pedersen makes his pitch to Ordnance for the .276 cal and a delayed blowback rifle to fire it. By 1925, the first Pedersen rifle is finished. By the end of 1927, Garand had dropped development of the primer-actuated design and produced for testing a design in .30 caliber, the T1, that shared some elements with the French RSC 1917. Ordnance ordered soon after that all future development would be in .276 caliber. Garand accordingly produced a .276 cal rifle, the T3. Development of the T1 (Garand) continues only in Garand’s spare time. Before 1929, the Pedersen’s adoption seems by far the most likely of any weapon tested. Everything changes in August of 1929. That year, Ordnance tests a now-obscure Czechoslovakian gun, the ZH-29, in .276 Pedersen caliber. The ZH-29 weighed 8lbs, 13oz, but remarkably was originally developed for the 7.9mm German caliber. This proves to Ordnance that a rifle could be designed for the .30 caliber that met their weight requirements. Pedersen’s rifle was still the most likely candidate, but the ZH-29 in 7.9mm began to change the Ordnance board’s minds. Pedersen, unaware of the impression the Czech weapon had made, traveled to England to sell his rifle to the British, who desperately desired both a common rifle and caliber with the United States. While in England working with the Vickers corporation, in 1930, the .276 caliber Garand performs at least as well as the Pedersen in tests, and Ordnance is not only a bit chafed by Pedersen’s absence, but also is strongly encouraged to adopt the Garand instead, because Pedersen had negotiated a deal whereby he would be paid $1 (over $14, adjusted for inflation) in royalties for each rifle made. Garand, working as a government employee, had no such agreement in place. In 1932, General MacArthur, acting upon the advisement of Ordnance, officially kills the .276 caliber and declares that all future US rifles will be in the existing .30 Caliber M1. Garand’s rifle is adopted in 1933, and the T1 is resurrected for further development, eventually becoming the US Rifle, Caliber .30, M1. It is standardized in 1936, and mass production begins slowly, eventually picking up by 1938.
- MacArthur killed the .276, but he acted on the advisement of Ordnance. This has become an unpopular decision, as the .276 caliber is seen as superior to the .30 M2 Ball that later became standard. What must be remembered though, is that while in general Ordnance was sold on the .276 concept after the Pig and Goat Board tests, they did not believe that round could meet the requirements of machine guns. Therefore, the adoption of the .276 meant having two caliber in service. They were willing to accept this, on the premise that a satisfactory rifle could not be developed for the .30 caliber round. Garand’s T1, and especially the ZH-29, both proved that this was possible, and the compulsion to adopt .276 waned, eventually evaporating with Pedersen’s trip to Britain.3. The .30 caliber Garand came first. Indeed, before late 1928, almost all designs were submitted in .30 caliber, with the exception of Pedersen, the .276’s champion. The .276 caliber Garand was developed after Ordnance’s decree that new rifles should be submitted in .276.4. A major deciding factor - possibly THE deciding factor between the Garand and Pedersen rifles was the fact that Pedersen had negotiated for royalties and an exorbitant salary. Pedersen was an excellent salesman, and he really was a good enough designer to deserve this, but Garand was his equal, and a more humble man who worked for the standard salary. Pedersen really did feel he was head and shoulders above everyone else - and he was almost right, had Garand not been around.5. The lubricated ammunition of the Pedersen rifle worked extremely well. It is a dry lube, and does not pick up dust or dirt. In fact, it acts as a preservative. It does make the cases scorching hot after firing, though.6. Pedersen’s design represents, so far as I know, the very first delayed blowback rifle ever successfully tested.7. The Pedersen rifle was in fact recommended for adoption by the testing board. It was the first self loading rifle to be recommended for adoption by the US Army.
- A substantial degree of credit is due Garand for the events that occurred after the M1’s adoption. In the 1930s, Springfield Armory had been gutted, and few engineers and toolmakers were left. Garand was a toolmaker by trade, and I can say with confidence that the Garand would never have been ready for production had he not labored to design not only the tools to make it, but many of the tools to make the tools.
There is a lot more I can talk about, but that’s the basic outline of what happened.
Thanks for coming on Nathaniel, where can people find you?
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