Nothing has pushed the progress of firearms development as fast or as hard as military conflict. Some of the most persistent weapons in use today were created with the initial purpose of serving a major armed force, and for good reason. While it’s hardly the only reason an armed force succeeds, a fine, accurate, reliable firearm can do a lot in the hands of a trained individual. Here’s our own list of five of some of the most interesting, iconic military firearms the world has ever seen.
I. The AR-15
While it had its share of growing pains, the AR-15 platform has really come into its own as easily the second most widespread military rifle in the history of warfare. Built on the bones of the AR-10, which was a 7.62 design by Eugene Stoner, the AR-15 is a family of weapons that came to be in 1957 by ArmaLite. The design was sold to Colt in 1959, and adopted by the US Military shortly thereafter. It earned a lot of notoriety for being finicky in operation in the Vietnam War, where ammo issues, the fact that it was only recently-adopted, and what was perceived as being chambered in a caliber better suited to mice than men, gave it a negative image. It did, however, introduce a lot of innovations that put it ahead of the firearms game at the time. Lots of aluminum and plastic, a lightweight cartridge, a modular design, and impressive accuracy all made it stand out in a world of older wood and metal battle rifles.
No mention of the AR-15 would really be complete without mentioning its polar opposite, the AK-47. The first widely successful example of the assault rifle concept, the AK is chambered in a moderate-power cartridge (7.62×39), where its contemporaries were all full-powered battle rifles. Until shortly before that point, at least as far as individual soldiers’ arms were concerned, armies were preoccupied with particularly accurate rifles that fired small volumes of powerful cartridges. As the nature of conflict changed, so did the requirements of boots on the ground. The AK gave a weapon that wasn’t particularly accurate, with an effective range of about 400 m at the extreme (though the bullet is lethal until past that range), but allowed soldiers to lay down a lot of fire. A removable box magazine expedited reloading, and an extremely simple manual of arms meant training a conscripted fighter to be combat-effective was a very easy matter. There’s a reason so many fledgling countries have the AK on their flag.
III. M1 Garand
A true battle rifle, the Garand was the first self-loading rifle to tame the powerful .30-06 cartridge. It served with the US throughout the Second World War to well past the Korean War. Replacing the venerable Springfield M1903 was no small feat, so the Garand had big shoes to fill. Also produced by the Springfield armory, the Garand gave US forces a distinct edge over its foes, who were using accurate, though slow, bolt-action rifles. En bloc clips (not stripper clips, as they are sometimes referred to) made for quick reloads, that distinct Garand sound, as well as vastly overwhelming fire when compared to its rival rifle on the other side of the conflict. The Garand was a beast of a weapon. At a solid 9.5 pounds in its lightest configuration, it threw a 30 caliber projectile downrange at 2,800 fps, at a rate of 50 rounds per minute. Any day you’re staring down a squad of angry Yanks wielding Garands is going to be a bad one.
IV. P08 Luger
The Pistole Parabellum 1908, known to its friends as the P08, might not have been the first self-loading pistol created, but it was the first one to have such wide adoption. It’s also extremely notable for being the weapon for which the 9mm Parabellum (9×19, to you young’uns) was developed. Based off the odd-looking C-93, the P08 and its unique toggle-locking mechanism is wonderfully complex, in true German fashion. Issued to officers of the German Empire (and later Nazi Germany, as well as a whole bunch of other countries), the P08 proved to be an accurate, effective handgun, if a little complicated to manufacture. Seeing use in more than its fair share of wars, from the First World War to well after WW2, and seeing a full-auto configuration along the way, the Luger remains one of the most iconic firearms in the history of warfare.
V. Winchester Model 1897
One of the longest-serving weapons on this list, the Winchester 1897 is a pump action shotgun that was in action during the Philippine-American War, all the way to the Gulf War. An evolution of the brainchild of firearms genius John Moses Browning, the Model 97 is a wonderfully simple, yet brutally effective shotgun chambered in 12- and 16-gauge. A tubular magazine under the barrel typically held five rounds, and the scattergun was notoriously robust, thanks to its manual action. It was used to such great success in the First World War, that its opponents sought to ban its use, in essence because it was so effective, and caused “unnecessary suffering.” When it first appeared, it was available for purchase for all of USD 25, partly because of manufacturing numbers, ease of manufacture, and because it was just a different time then.
Also published in GADGETS MAGAZINE May 2016 Issue.
Words by Ren Alcantara