AKs, M-1s, and Field & Stream: David Petzal on military small arms

More on “The Father of Ten Million Rifles.” It’s been a long, long time (maybe 70 years) since Field & … Continued

More on “The Father of Ten Million Rifles.” It’s been a long, long time (maybe 70 years) since Field & Stream had any kind of article on military small arms. In the years before World War II, and during the war, we covered the subject regularly, courtesy of our two gun columnists, Captain Paul Curtis and Colonel Townsend Whelen. Curtis wrote about shotguns and Whelen about rifle, but military guns were a subject close to their hearts.

Our readers at the time felt the same way. Everyone knew the war was coming, and that it was going to be a doozer, and millions of men were either veterans of World War I or getting ready for World War II, so military stuff was of major interest to them.

Why we stopped is a mystery to me. All guns are interesting, as are the stories behind them, and I was glad to see General Kalashnikov and his rifle get their due in print.

Kalashnikov is a gun-design genius. If you go back and read the old issues from the 1930s and early 1940s, you can read about another genius named John Garand, whose M-1 rifle was called (by no less an authority than General George S. Patton) “the greatest battle implement ever devised.”

The M-1 was the first semi-auto rifle issued to any army, and it served us very well in two of our glorious wars. When I enlisted in 1963, there were still a great many serving soldiers who had fought in those conflicts, and to a man they swore by John Garand’s invention.

Garand’s design was the product of a time when careful aimed fire at long range was the watchword. The M-1 holds eight rounds, fires semi-auto only, and can hit reliably at 600 yards. The AK-47 holds 30 rounds, fires semi- or full-auto, and is accurate to maybe 300 yards. The M-1 is highly reliable. The AK is virtually unstoppable. The M-1 is now a relic, while the AK will probably still be killing people as the 21st century closes.