Guns and Hunting

Guns That Contributed to American Victory in WWII

Public Domain / Wikipedia Commons

World War II began in September 1939 with the German invasion of Poland. According to the National World War II Museum, in the early part of the war, according to one poll, most Americans opposed declaring war against the Axis powers in Europe. After the Battle of France, where France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands were taken over that spring, the German Luftwaffe set its sights on Britain and began its attack by August 1940.

By the fall, the American attitude had shifted, and more than half believed the United States should now intervene. However, it was decided that the U.S. would remain an outside influence unless directly threatened. That decision came to a halt overnight when, on Dec. 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, catching the U.S. flat-footed and leaving over 2,400 Americans dead.

Upon declaring war with Japan on Dec. 8, 1941 – and with Germany three days later – the United States put its industrial might into the war effort. Throughout the conflict, an estimated 86,000 tanks, 96,000 bombers, 2.4 million trucks, and 6.5 million rifles rolled off American assembly lines. (Here is a look at the most mass-produced planes of World War II.)

Before the U.S. solidified its reputation as the arsenal of democracy, the U.S. military was up against a massive weapons shortage. To arm the rapidly growing ranks of American troops, the government did away with normal small arms procurement protocol, and much of America’s domestic firearms industry shifted to meet military needs – providing not only rifles but also handguns and shotguns. Some of those firearms carried in combat by American servicemen across Europe, North Africa, and the Pacific are now iconic, while others have been largely forgotten.

24/7 Wall St. identified guns that contributed to American victory in World War II by using data from multiple sources, including the Warfare History Network, the National Park Service, and the National WWII Museum. While this list is not exhaustive, we considered a range of firearm types, including rifles, shotguns, machine guns, and handguns.  

While many guns had been around for decades, several of these guns were developed specifically for the war. Several were churned out by the millions and carried by multiple service branches. Others, meanwhile, were not widely adopted but still found niche roles in the broader war effort. (Here is a look at the states with the most living World War II veterans.)

Here are the guns that contributed to American victory in World War II.

1. M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle

Source: David Parker / Hulton Archive via Getty Images
  • Weapon type: Light machine gun
  • Caliber: .30-06

The Browning Automatic Rifle, or BAR, was the standard light machine gun of the U.S. military throughout WWII. Typically chambered for .30-06 ammunition and weighing between 13 and 24 pounds, depending on the model, BARs were powerful and capable of firing 650 rounds per minute.

Official policy in the European theater dictated at least one BAR per rifle squad. This ultimately changed to a minimum of two, as an answer to the Germans’ superior MG34 machine guns. BARs were also used by Marines in the Pacific as an anti-sniper weapon.

2. M2 Browning

Source: Hulton Archive / Archive Photos via Getty Images
  • Weapon type: Machine gun
  • Caliber: .50

The M2 Browning was one of the most versatile and widely used weapons by the U.S. military during WWII. A heavy, .50 caliber machine gun capable of firing 500 rounds a minute, the M2 was used as an anti-aircraft gun, a close-range naval gun, a turret on bombers. It was also fixed to combat vehicles and fighter planes. Initially developed in World War I, the M2 Browning is still used by the U.S. military today.

3. Colt M1911

Source: handvapensamlingen / Flickr
  • Weapon type: Pistol
  • Caliber: .45 ACP

One of the most iconic and popular handguns ever made is the 1911. Though the original M1911 is associated with Colt, many other manufacturers – including Ithaca, Remington, Savage, and the Springfield Armory – bought the development rights to assist with production. In the years leading up to and during WWII, more than 19 million M1911 are estimated to have been produced.

The semi-automatic pistol, chambered for .45 caliber ammunition, was the standard issue sidearm for the U.S. military from 1911 to 1986.

4. Smith & Wesson M1917

Source: Public Domain / Wikipedia Commons
  • Weapon type: Revolver
  • Caliber: .38 Special

When the United States entered the Second World War, all service branches faced a handgun shortage – but with most M1911s going to the Army, the Navy was especially disadvantaged. As a result, the Navy contracted Smith & Wesson to produce a version of their 1917 revolver.

The new M1917s were chambered for .38 Special ammunition, had a 4-inch barrel, a non-reflective blue finish, and – known as the “Victory model” – a serial number that began with the letter “V.” S&W produced some 900,000 of these revolvers for the U.S. government, many of which were carried by Naval and Marine aviators. Before the U.S. entered the war, S&W sold a similar variation of the M1917 to the British military.

5. Colt Commando

Source: Courtesy of Colt
  • Weapon type: Revolver
  • Caliber: .38

The Colt Commando was a slightly modified version of the company’s Police Official revolver (shown here) – several thousand of which were ordered by the U.S. government just days after the Pearl Harbor attack. Cheaper and faster to manufacture than the Police Official, the Commando was designed to cut costs. It featured a 4-inch barrel – though some smaller versions had a 2-inch barrel – and was chambered for .38 caliber rounds.

The U.S. government purchased about 49,000 Colt Commandos during the war. About 16,000 went to the U.S. Army, 1,800 went to the U.S. Navy, and the remainder went to intelligence organizations, guards, and some non-military personnel.

6. M1 Garand

Source: Three Lions / Hulton Archive via Getty Images
  • Weapon type: Rifle
  • Caliber: .30-06

The M1 Garand was the standard U.S. Army infantry rifle during the Second World War, a period in which an estimated 5.4 million were manufactured. Described by Gen. George S. Patton, commander of the U.S. Third Army, as “the greatest battle implement ever devised,” the M1 Garand gave the U.S. military a significant advantage over the Axis powers.

While the German and Japanese military were still using bolt action rifles, the M1 Garand was semi-automatic with an eight-round capacity. Chambered for .30-06 ammunition, the rifle also packed a punch. Carried by every branch of the military, it could be accessorized with a bayonet or grenade launcher.

7. M1 Carbine

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Weapon type: Rifle
  • Caliber: .30 carbine

During World War II, the M1 Carbine was used by American soldiers for whom a full-size rifle would be too cumbersome. Shorter, and weighing about half as much as the 9.5-pound M1 Garand, the M1 Carbine was used by paratroopers, support staff, radio operators, mortarmen, and soldiers navigating the jungle terrain of some Pacific islands.

The M1 Carbine was chambered for a light .30 caliber round. Though it was far less powerful than the M1 Garand, it offered greater range, accuracy, and firepower than a handgun.

8. M1903 Springfield

Source: simonov / Flickr
  • Weapon type: Rifle
  • Caliber: .30-06

In the early days of American involvement in World War II, the M1903 Springfield, a bolt action rifle, was issued to some American troops as production of the preferred M1 Garand was ramping up. As a result, the M1903 was used by Marines in Wake Island and Guadalcanal, and GIs in North Africa.

Variations of the M1903 were used throughout the war, most notably as a sniper rifle. Highly accurate, the rifle was said to be effective without a scope up to 656 yards – and in some extreme cases, as much as 2,500 yards.

9. Winchester Model 70

Source: radiomarina / Flickr
  • Weapon type: Rifle
  • Caliber: .30-06

When Winchester shipped nearly 400 of its bolt-action Model 70 rifles to the U.S. Marine Corps only months after the U.S. entered the Second World War, the military brass deemed them unsuitable for the battlefield. The lack of sling swivels, limited part availability, and questions about the guns’ sturdiness were among the reasons for the rejection.

Though some officers may not have liked the Winchester Model 70, many Marine marksmen disagreed. Compared to the standard issue M1903 Springfield rifles, Model 70 was lighter and more accurate, with an improved action and highly adjustable trigger. Ultimately, limited numbers of the Model 70 were used in the Pacific by Marine snipers throughout the war.

10. Winchester Model 1897

Source: Public Domain / Wikipedia Commons
  • Weapon type: Shotgun
  • Chambered in: 12 gauge & 16 gauge

Widely used for clearing trenches in the First World War, the Winchester Model 1897 – a pump action shotgun – was also used in WWII. The shotgun was used by both the U.S. Army and Marine Corps during the war, though its use dwindled in favor of the updated Model 1912.

11. Winchester Model 1912

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Weapon type: Shotgun
  • Chambered in: 12 gauge, 16 gauge

The U.S. government bought an estimated 80,000 Winchester Model 1912 shotguns during WWII. The Model 1912, or simply Model 12, was a pump action shotgun with a six-round tubular magazine, typically chambered for 12 gauge shells. A deadly short-range weapon, the Model 1912 was used by every branch of the U.S. military – and was particularly favored by Marines in the Pacific theater.

12. Remington Model 11

Source: Courtesy of Remington
  • Weapon type: Shotgun
  • Chambered in: 12 gauge, 16 gauge

The Remington Model 11 was a semi-automatic shotgun with a five-round capacity, though notably the Sportsman version had a three-round capacity to comply with hunting regulations. It was nearly identical to the Browning Auto-5 shown here. These guns were procured in the early days of the war by the government to address an arms shortage.

Model 11s were used on the battlefield both in Europe and the Pacific, though many long-barrelled versions were used for training anti-aircraft personnel. Shorter barrelled versions, meanwhile, were often used for guard duty.

13. Stevens Model 520/620

Source: Keydet92 / Wikimedia Commons
  • Weapon type: Shotgun
  • Chambered in: 12 gauge

The Stevens Model 520 and its slightly newer and more streamlined 620 variant, were pump-action shotguns. The type used by the U.S. military in WWII was typically chambered for 12 gauge ammunition and often featured a heat shield over the barrel. They were designated for use as trench guns, riot guns, and training guns. Slightly over 45,000 of these guns were produced during the war.

14. Ithaca 37

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Weapon type: Shotgun
  • Chambered in: 12 gauge

One month before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government ordered 1,420 Ithaca 37 shotguns to shore up a diminishing supply of combat shotguns. The 37 was a pump-action shotgun with a six-round capacity, a ventilated heat shroud over the barrel, a bayonet mount, and swivel studs for a sling.

When Ithaca began filling the orders as the U.S. entered the war, 18-inch and 20-inch barrel versions of the 37 were in high demand in the dense jungles of the Pacific theater. The guns were also used by guards at U.S. bases in Europe.

15. M1 Thompson

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images
  • Weapon type: Submachine gun
  • Caliber: .45 ACP

The M1 Thompson, also known as the Tommy Gun, was a fully automatic submachine gun that gained infamy during the Prohibition Era as a favorite among gangsters. However, during the war, over 1.5 million Tommy Guns were distributed to American and Allied troops.

The type commonly used by the American military featured a 30-round box magazine and a firing rate of several hundred rounds per minute. Chambered for .45 ACP ammunition, the Thompson was practical and effective in close-quarters combat.

16. M50 Reising

Source: Public Domain / Wikipedia Commons
  • Weapon type: Submachine gun
  • Caliber: .45 ACP

The M50 Reising was perhaps the most hated firearm American troops used in the Second World War. Lighter, more accurate, and cheaper to produce than the M1 Thompson, the M50 Reising was a promising piece of hardware – at least on paper. It had several shortcomings that far outweighed any positives, however. With a complicated design, the firearm was difficult to maintain and was prone to jamming, particularly in sandy or muddy conditions.

Early in the war, the U.S. Marine Corps authorized about 4,200 M50 Reising submachine guns for each division. As a result, the guns were widely used by Marine Raiders and paratroopers in Guadalcanal. According to some accounts, the 1st Marine Raider Battalion commander ordered his troops to toss their M50s in the rivers on Guadalcanal, recommending they use the bolt-action Springfield 1903 instead.

17. M3 “Grease Gun”

Source: Public Domain / Wikipedia Commons
  • Weapon type: Submachine gun
  • Caliber: .45 ACP

The M3 submachine gun, or “Grease Gun,” as it was commonly known, was developed by General Motors and introduced in 1944 as a replacement for the M1 Thompson. Despite initial resistance – partially due to the gun’s rather austere appearance – Grease Guns held several advantages over the Tommy Gun, both from a government and battlefield perspective.

For one, Grease Guns were cheap, costing less than half as much to produce as Thompsons. They could also be manufactured faster. Soldiers in the field benefited from the gun’s shorter and lighter design and a slowed fire rate that allowed for greater accuracy and ammunition conservation. Grease Guns were also easier to reload, disassemble, and clean than the Thompson.

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