1941 Johnson, a missed opportunity
It's really too bad that Melvin Johnson got in the game so late, because his design really was significantly superior to the Garand. The receiver and several parts were investment cast, which would have been a HUGE time and money saver. Recoil is far less. No offset op-rod. Magazine can be loaded and topped off by stripper clips, WAY easier field stripping & maintenance.
The LMG was freaking awesome, way better than a BAR, and still shared 85% parts interchangeability with the individual rifle. About 5lbs lighter than the BAR. More controllable in full auto, quick change barrel. And again, would have been much cheaper and easier to build.
The Johnson wasn't as reliable as the Garand but that's because it didn't have anywhere near the development time of the Garand. If you compare a first model Johnson to a first model Garand, then the Johnson was way ahead of the Garand.
It's really a shame the Johnson came so late in the game. As great as the Garand was (and it was truly magnificent), the Johnson could have been easily twice as good.
I actually got to handle one a few years ago, belonged to a heavy equipment repair guy whose grandfather had "appropriated" it and brought it home.
Wasn't for sale...
I've shot a few of them, they're cool. The 1941 LMG is one of the coolest MG's I have ever shot, mostly because it's such a rare bird. But also because it handled recoil so amazingly well.
A lot of them ended up in Cuba...evidently the Kennedy administration thought it would be a good idea to issue them to the Bay of Pigs invaders.
"Who...US?? Invade your country? No, it wasn't US, we would never do a thing like that"
All this was thoroughly hashed out many years ago.
The Johnson was a good rifle and a better LMG, but not as good a combat rifle as the M1, which bested the Johnson in tests.
It didn't help that the Johnson was developed after the M1 was already official adopted as the Service Rifle.
One major problem with the Johnson was that it used a lot more parts than the M1 and required special tools to disassemble.
The Johnson uses a number of screws that have to be removed, where the M1 doesn't.
It wouldn't have been as easy for a soldier to maintain in the field.
Another is that it was slower to load then the M1.
The Johnson could be loaded with single rounds, which was not an advantage in a combat rifle, or it could be loaded with the Springfield 5 round stripper clip.
This was much slower to use then the 8 round M1 clip.
The M1 had a better rear sight.
A major issue with the Johnson was that it was recoil operated and had a barrel that moved to the rear during operation.
This would have made mounting a bayonet a problem.
The Johnson rifle was beloved by the Marines because Johnson was a Marine and a lot of people were butt-hurt that the M1 fared better in the testing and the Johnson was not adopted.
The rifle was in limited use by Marine Paratrooper units, where it failed to measure up.
After testing against the M1 even the Marines rejected the Johnson.
Testing turn up good points like the removable barrel and refillable magazine.
But there the were bad points of the higher weight, denting of the magazine, tendency for the rotary magazine to foul with sand and dust, and the single stage trigger.
The LMG was used in limited amounts by the First Special Services, and OSS.
The first model failed in tests when it was found to not be reliable under harsh conditions.
An improved LMG was produced which did better, but by that time it wasn't feasible to produce a totally different weapon.
There have been entire books written about why the M1 was the better rifle.
This is a case of "what might have been", but the Johnson was just too late and too little.
In spite of some good points, it was never adopted as standard by any country.
The Garand was the better rifle because it got a decade of development. The Johnson got 1.5 years. That's what it really comes down to. Any prototype rifle is going to have areas where they need improvements, and the Johnson was no exception. It's just that it came too late in the game. Melvin got a couple of quick trys, and then it had to go into production with his best "guess" effort. Considering how little development it had, it's a VERY impressive rifle.
Every deficiency of the rifle could easily be addressed...but it would have been foolish to address those issues, and then consider adoption that late in the game.
I have no doubt had the two rifles been invented at the same time, the Johnson would have been the rifle we adopted. But as I said, Johnson was just way too late getting in the game.
We definitely made the right decision to stick with the Garand and BAR, they were both 100% ready for prime time, while the Johnson was about 85%-90% ready.
But also consider something else about the Johnson. Even with how little development it got, I'd rather have the Johnson over the G43, Ljungman, or Tokarev (at least the '38 model).
It's hard today to look back at early semi-auto Service rifle development and understand just how difficult it was.
Today we look at rifles like the AK and AR and many others and it's hard to figure out what the big deal was. Today it all seems so easy.
Looking at the AK for instance, all it really is is a hole in the barrel, a gas piston, and a rotating bolt.
What's so difficult about that?
The 1900's to the post-war era is littered with failed semi-auto rifle designs.
Even masters like John Browning and John Garand struggled for years to come up with viable designs.
Many others that were actually produced probably shouldn't have been.
It's very possible that Johnson's rifle could have been developed into our Service rifle, but that would have required a lot of redesign to radically reduce the number of parts, and the other problems.
Johnson was just too little, too late.
By the time WWII was over, Johnson was pushed aside by better designs like the AK, the FN 1950, the M14, the G3, and others.
History is filled with mechanical "what might have beens".
Fn1950? I think you mean the FN49
As an example of how difficult designing a semi-auto Service rifle was even after WWII and the M1 Rifle, M1 Carbine, StG 44, etc, The Belgians weren't certain the M49 was going to cut it so they also produced the Model 1950 Mauser bolt rifle in case the 49 failed.
And the Belgian FN Model 1950 Mauser was the only Mauser military rifle ever made ORIGINALLY in 30-06.
After the war we gave everyone lots of surplus 30-06 ammo so it made sense to chamber the 1950 in 30-06.
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