When the Garand Became the Greatest Battle Implement
On January 26, 1945, Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr. uttered the famous phrase, “In my opinion, the M-1 Rifle is the greatest battle implement ever devised.” Well, actually, he didn’t say it - he wrote it.
We’ve all heard Patton’s praise of the M1 Garand rifle, but few know the context in which it was made. It is the first line in a letter from Patton on his official Third Army “OFFICE OF THE COMMANDING GENERAL” letterhead to Major General Levin H. Campbell, Jr., who was the War Department’s Chief of Ordnance.
John Garand’s rifle was officially designated as the M1, and was adopted as the standard US infantry rifle in 1936. The first production M1 rifle was successfully proofed, function-checked, and accurized on July 21, 1937. The Army accepted the first run of guns in 1938. By January 1940, Springfield Armory was producing 100 rifles per day. Production peaked in January 1944 with 122,001 M1s produced in 31 days. That’s 3,936 rifles per day or 164 rifles per hour!
The Garand semi-automatic rifle wasn’t Patton’s only object of adoration in the letter. He went on to say that his “admiration for Ordnance products does not stop with the M-1 Rifle.” He goes on to say that the United States’ “machine guns, mortars, artillery, and tanks are without equal.”
High praise from Patton was not to be taken lightly. He was just as feared and revered during his lifetime as his legacy is today. Perhaps that’s why this letter, which was no doubt considered by many to be just another piece of official daily correspondence, was preserved. Had it been discarded, military historians and gun collectors the world over would have been denied one of the most famous quotes of the 20th century.
Of course, Patton knew that high quality weaponry was useless if not used properly by well-trained soldiers, or, as Patton referred to them in his letter, “unconquerable veterans.” It was in their hands that the M1 Garand and the other Ordnance tools of their trade would ensure the “utter destruction of the armed forces of our enemies.”
The recipient of Patton’s letter, Major General Campbell, knew his way around ordnance. He had served in many capacities at ordnance facilities throughout the country since 1918. Before becoming the Chief of Ordnance, he spent time at the Office of the Chief of Ordnance, Washington, D.C.; Stockton Ordnance Depot, California; Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland; and Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois. Clearly, the War Department had the right man for the job.
Campbell retired in 1946, but he didn’t sit idle. He took a job as the Executive Vice President for International Harvester, a well-known producer of farm equipment. Interestingly enough, International Harvester went on to produce 337,623 M1 Garand rifles between 1952 and 1956. Campbell had retired from the company by the time production began, but the connection there is still quite interesting.
By the time World War II ended just months after Patton’s praise, Springfield Armory’s total production numbered 3,526,922 M1 rifles from 1932 through 1945. Records indicate Winchester produced a total of 513,880 M1 rifles between December 1940 and June 1945.
Between the two of them, their combined WWII production totaled 4,040,802 rifles. With numbers like that (and military results to back them up), it’s easy to see why Patton - and untold scores of WWII veterans - all heap the same kind of praise on John Garand’s rifle.
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