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4,271 Posts
Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Some will contest the accusation that the M14 actually did fail as a service weapon, serving in a variety of secondary roles well into the 21st Century, but it did have a very short life as the primary infantry rifle in the modern era. Although, not the officially the shortest, that dubious honor goes to the Krag-Jørgensen. The Krag was officially adopted in 1892 and officially superseded in 1903, eleven years. The M14 was officially adopted as the primary infantry rifle in 1957 and officially superseded by the M16 in that role in 1969, twelve years. However, the M14 was very late getting into the hands of troops, first issued in late 1960 and largely phased out of service in Vietnam by 1967. This fact usually results in many people saying the M14 had the shortest active life, even though the M14 was still the primary infantry rifle issued to troops in Europe into the 1970s.[1]

40 years between 1966 and 2006, and the rifle has not changed.

The T44 never was intended to be the primary candidate for the US Lightweight Rifle Program, in fact it never was intended to exist. After WW2 Springfield began work on replacing the M1, and Earl Harvey’s T25 was the result. Then the idea of a common cartridge for NATO came into being, and since the ammunition was to common, why not the rifle as well? So, in 1950 a comparative trial between the T25 and the British EM-2 was arranged. FN was also allowed to participate as sort of a consolation for the loss to the EM-2 in British trials a year ago. The result of this trial was none were deemed acceptable, but the FAL came out best, with the T25 and EM-2 with serious deficiencies in different areas. In light of this test, Britain reversed its decision to adopt the EM-2 in favor of the FAL and the US began work to try and fix the T25 (so great were the changes the T25 was redesignated the T47). As a back-up the T36, a lightened M1 in the T65 cartridge and with the T25 gas cut-off operating system was injected into the test as the T44.

Again, none were acceptable as they were, but also, again the FAL was the best. Work on the T47 was halted. In 1953, the FAL proved sufficiently superior that it was recommended that the T44 also be dropped, if the artic test of the FAL went as well as the tests at Fort Benning. According to the Officer in charge of R&D at Springfield the only reason the T44 was included was to provide a baseline to show the FAL’s general superiority. Springfield, no doubt upset by the poor showing several years in a row set out to provide the best T44 possible for the arctic test.[2] At least as good as they could get it in six months.

The winter tests of 1953-4 upset everything. The FAL was grossly under powered in the cold temperatures and when that was corrected by enlarging the gas port, introduced an increased number of parts breakage. Again, nobody “won” neither being “acceptable”. So, the testers handed out lists of faults to be corrected and invited back to Benning, but, this time, both were given time to run a limited production batch of 500 rifles. The next test would be in the summer of 1955.

Certain aspects of the T44 were preferred, such as the slightly lighter weight and the fact that nothing needed be done to adjust the gas system, greatly simplifying training. The time allowed to work up a product batch of 500 rifles gave Springfield time to not only fix the major faults, but make the T44 what it should have been from the start. First off, the receiver was shortened, as the T44 was derived from the T36, T37 and the M1, nobody ever bothered to shorten the receiver for the new shorter T65, (now 7.62mm NATO) cartridge, just inserting spacer blocks that had a habit of working loose. Persistent problems with the magazine were ironed out by making most of the round controlling geometry part of the receiver rather than the magazine lips. [3] Also, the Army had finally accepted that no gas operated weapon could launch grenades without damage without some form of gas cut-off, so the not very reliable gas relief valve was replaced by a simple manual cut-off valve. Other changes to the operating rod and flash hider were made to correct weaknesses in these parts.

The temperate test at Fort Benning and the winter tests in Alaska in 1955-56, were a success for both the T44 and T48, both were regarded as acceptable. The decision on which to adopt was now a political one, but either way the Army would finally get a worthy successor to the M1.

4,271 Posts
Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)
Why did the M14 have such a short life? It was not any technical issue, as the rifles continued to be used well after the adoption of the M16, and continued to be regarded highly by those issued one. The answer is not a simple one, but we will look at it in as much detail as we can for a post.

The Atomic Bomb. When people say the atomic bomb changed the world, they rarely realize just how true that statement is. The bomb ultimately ended the careers of Admirals and Generals, it caused countries to disappear and others to spring up, and it helped kill the M14.

When the T44E4 was officially adopted in 1957, no production funding had been allocated, so production would have to wait until the FY58 budget, which authorized a token order of 15,600 rifles to be produced at Springfield Armory. But, the Springfield Armory of 1957 was not the Springfield Armory of 1944, that could churn out 3,000 rifles a day. Budget cut had reduced the work force at Springfield from a high during M1 Garand production in 1955 of over 1200 to just 676. Many of these skilled workers found new jobs elsewhere in the Massachusetts area and were permanently lost. Even though funding was authorized, it was not received until March of 1958, nine months in to the fiscal year. Also, because of the low volume of M14 production and the other low volume production orders, such as the M61, M39 cannons, the M73, etc, dedicated production lines were impractical, and production more akin to “job shopping” was employed. And to throw a little salt in the festering wound, the about half the tooling from the limited production run of 500 T44E4s done in 1955-56 had to be reworked because of design changes between the T44E4 and M14.

The original order for 15,600 rifles was scheduled to be delivered by the June 59. By the end of July 1959, 50 rifles had been completed. Not a great way to start. In Fiscal 1960 (July 59 through June 1960) Springfield delivered 8,725 rifles, half of the contracted total.

So, what does all that have to do with the atomic bomb? Well, a good number of the problems at Springfield were due to a lack of funding, or lack of timely delivery of funding. Atomic weapons, and their associated delivery systems, were (and still are) very expensive. A majority of the available funding was allocated to these projects. The many conventional weapons programs that were trying to modernize the Army from WW2 and Korean War equipment were all competing for limited funds. In WW2, if there was a problem in production a dedicated production team jumped on it to fix it, and if it cost a lot of money, who cared. In 1958, if there was a problem, you had to see who had some spare time to go fix it, and with a limited work force “spare time” actually meant “put off current work to go solve the problem”, which results in a delay in whatever “current work” was.

The Military-Industrial Complex. Prior to World War 2, procurement of military equipment from commercial sources was rather limited. Places like Schuykill made uniforms and accoutrements, Springfield and Rock Island small arms [4], Watervliet and the Naval Gun Factory cannon, etc. Then World War 2 came and the entire might of the US industry was turned to war production. Then it ended. But, many companies felt that military production was more profitable than commercial production. Waltham watch never really when back to making watches, preferring to make fuses and gyroscopes, Food Machinery Corporation (FMC) found ammunition handling and armored vehicles were more lucrative than canning machines, and many others tried to stay in the armaments business. But, with limited dollars in the post war budget how could they ensure they got and satisfying slice of the pie? Well, they could eliminate the competition, and the easiest competition to eliminate were the government arsenals. In the 1950s a number of laws were enacted that limited the Government arsenals to prototype and pilot production only. This would eventually result in the reduction and eventual closure of many government owned-government operated production facilities.

The 15,600 rifles from Springfield were supposed to be the only ones from Springfield. So, at the beginning of FY59 an request for bids went out for the production of the M14 Rifle. Twelve offers were received ranging from $68.75 to $157.10. (Curiously, Springfield figured that production of the M14 would be about 10% higher than the M1 Garand, which had been around $75 to $80 in 1955.) Olin Mathieson’s Winchester division (Winchester) had made the lowest bid, and given their history of producing the M1 in WW2 and their current ability to produce commercial firearms, they were awarded a contract for 35,000 rifles. Harrington & Richardson (H&R), also wanting a contract found a procurement rule that granted preference to companies located in “depressed areas”, and demanded reconsideration of their offer [5]. The Army counteroffered that if H&R could match Winchester’s unit price they too would get a contract. H&R readily agreed. Both companies were awards contracts in the amount of $4,116,250 for 35,000 rifles with spare parts. (Somewhere around here, I posted the required number of spares per 100 rifles.)

Now, Winchester and H&R had to figure out how to actually make a rifle that was probably 10% more time consuming to make than an M1 for 20% less cost. Winchester had invested in a modern Gorton Transfer Machine that did thirty-two cutting operation in one set-up in under a minute, as opposed to the traditional method of using a few dozen dedicated machines for each cut. However, the machine required some serious adjustments to dial in the desired tolerances, which took time. Winchester’s receiver and bolt production fell behind and they were forced to buy receivers from Springfield and bolts from H&R to keep up production. Fortunately, Winchester did get the kinks with the Gorton ironed out, but the delay wound up slowing all three manufacturers down, as H&R and Springfield had to divert resources to supply components to Winchester.

H&R planned to reduce cost by cost by sub-contracting out as much as possible, which did control their cost, but production could only processed at the pace of the slowest sub-contractor. These two contractors were supposed to achieve production rates of 3,000 rifles per months delivering the quantity specified in the contract in 12 months. In FY60, when the rifles ordered in FY59 were due Winchester delivered zero and H&R delivered 600.

Because of the glacial pace of the two contractors, Springfield was brought back on-line in November 1959 with a contract for 32,000 rifles. This contract specified the new plastic handguard and hinged buttplate, making minor adjustments to some tooling necessary. By October 1960, Springfield was able to reach their target production rate of 3,000 rifles per month.

By the end of 1960, M14 started to be issued to troops, only to be halted after reports of receiver and bolt failures. Bolts with improper heat treatment had excessively high core hardness and became brittle. And in the case of receivers, it turned out that somehow 1330 steel was used in making some receivers, but heat treated as specified for 8620 steel, this resulted in extremely brittle receivers. The problem was segregating the bad 1330 receivers from the good 8620 ones. Eventually, a method using the minor differences in magnetic properties between alloys was employed to weed out the bad receivers. A similar method was used to segregate brittle bolts from good ones. [6] It also meant a large number of M14 had to be held in quarantine, and issues to troops could only be made from production from after the identification of the incorrect steel, basically troop issues had been reset to where they had been in July 1958. All total 35,786 receivers and 33,808 bolts were inspected with 35 receivers and 6,960 bolts rejected.

Further, reports were coming in about poor accuracy and poor reliability from the field. Subsequent investigation reveal that production had been increasing the time between tool changes and set-up checks allowing tolerances to creep outside limits. This had been allowed by production engineers to speed up deliveries, but resulted in problems later, such as lot acceptance failures, and user complaints.

In the spring of 1961, the newly installed Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara launched an investigation into M14 production. Most of the problems identified were in the process of being corrected or easily fixed, but the mere existence of them probably further cemented the idea that Government owned production facilities were incapable of developing new weapons in a cost effective manner in the mind of the SecDef. A majority of the US owned and operated production facilities would be shuttered or reduced to repair facilities in the next twenty years.

While the M14 struggled to overcome its production difficulties, world events, and the Cold War continued. And, in the summer of 1961 the East Germans (with the blessings of the Soviets) closed East Berlin and began erecting barbed wire and road blocks. Soon US and British troops and tanks sat at the few remaining border crossings staring at Soviet troops and tanks. Splashed on newspapers and TVs across America were images of the growing confrontation. Much to the chagrin the US public, the US troops looked little different from WW2 and Korea, armed with M1s, BARs and M1919s, in contrast the British had the new L1A1 rifle and L7A1 GPMG and the Soviets – AK-47s. [7]

M14s were quickly flown over to Germany and distributed to the troops, but the public perception damage was done.

Also in 1961, the Project Manager for the M14 suggested that a third commercial firm be brought in to boost production. The Army solicited 33 firms and a further 11 offered bids as a possible 3rd source. And just as the Berlin Crisis reached its climax Thompson-Ramo-Wooldrige (TRW) agreed to produce 100,000 M14s at $85.54 a piece, plus $6,522,164 for non-recurring tooling and equipment. [8] In September 1962, one month ahead of schedule, TRW started delivery. Better yet, no major faults were noted with TRWs products.

By the end of 1962 all three of the original manufacturers had worked out the kinks in in production and had resumed regular deliveries. Springfield, because of the addition of TRW to the production line-up, and the trouble free nature of TRW’s production, was not granted any further contracts after FY62. However, in January 1963 McNamara announced that after the completion of the contracts awarded in FY63, no further contracts would be awarded.

Production by Winchester, H&R would continue for another year and TRW would deliver the last M14s at the end of FY64.

The final contract prices for M14s were:

Winchester - $118.82
H&R - $113.60
TRW - $79.49

Winchester’s price rose $50 over the four yearly contracts, and H&R’s price rose $44.85 over five yearly contracts. It would seem that Winchester either severely underestimated the cost to produce an M14, or deliberately underbid just to get the contract. Either way the fall out from this was to make H&R’s bid (which had to match Winchester’s) equally unrealistic. In contrast, TRW final unit price was lower than the initial contract, another reason TRW was highly regarded.

4,271 Posts
Discussion Starter #3
So, whose fault was it? Springfield Armory? Winchester? Harrington & Richardson? McNamara? The Ordnance Department as an institution? The only one we can definitly NOT accuse of this is TRW.

Well, none of them – and all of them. The M14 came in at the wrong time for a service rifle. The infantryman and his weapons were sidelined by nuclear weaponry. There was a recession had resulted in a tightening of the budget purse strings. There were more firearm companies than contracts, making companies more prone to making unrealistic bids, just to win. An Ordnance system that was more used to be a producer, rather than a manager. In addition, a new Defense Secretary that though the military could be run like a car company. [9]

There never was an intent to have a long drawn out competition between several rifles, the T25 was supposed to have been developed, perfected and fielded just like the M60 and M73 machine guns and every tank until the M1 Abrams. Had the US decided that we won WW2 with different ammunition from the Brits, let them go their own way, the T25 in Caliber .30, Lightweight would have been the standard in the US and the EM-2 in 7mm Mk 1z would have been the standard in Britain.

The introduction of a competition slowed the development of the Lightweight Rifle, but probably improved the quality of the end product. The T25 may have ended up in the same boat as the M73 and M85 machine guns, which were less than spectacular to say the least.

Interestingly, the FAL, like the T44 was included in test almost on a whim, but eventually became the ultimate winner. Even though the FAL was not adopted by the US, the rigorous testing and development throughout the Lightweight Rifle Program resulted in a highly reliable rifle. Further, since US production of M14 was slow and the number required high, it was highly unlikely that M14 would be available for sale to foreign militaries (assuming the US Govt would allow Winchester, H&R or TRW to produce them for that market). That meant the FAL was the only real choice for a combat rifle developed to shoot the new 7.62mm NATO cartridge. [10] That gave FN a near monopoly on the market, until Belgium, rather incensed about Germany twice invading their country in the last 50 years, refuse to grant West Germany a license to produce the G1. This would give rise to H&K’s G3.
1. People can play with the numbers to prove their point, stating that the Krag was still widely issued as late as 1910, to claim that the Krag had a longer life, but omit the fact that the Krag also had a slow start, production not getting into full stride until 1894, and still in short supply by the start of the Spanish-American War . Similarly, the M14 was “de facto” superceded by the M16A1 in 1967; this was not actually put in writing until 1969.

2. Some detractors of the M14 claim that Springfield set out to tune the T44s for the arctic test while allowing the FALs to languish in the corner. Well, the truth is the FALs did not belong to the US Government and still were the property of FN (or H&R). After the Fort Benning tests in 1953, they were returned to FN with a laundry list of faults to be rectified before being deemed acceptable. FN knew well in advance what the test would consist of, when the tests where going to be (winter) where the test were to be conducted (Alaska) what the weather conditions were going to be (as well as anyone can predict the weather, but Alaska in the winter, cold- very cold). The poor showing of the FAL in the winter of 1953 is no one’s fault but FN’s. They should have been able to find a cold chamber to test in.

3. Due to manpower shortages at Springfield, the receiver redesign effort was contracted out to Matthewson Tool & Die, who had just hired one J. Garand as a consultant. Garand quit his consulting job at Springfield Armory for this effort as his retirement pay was stopped on the days he showed up at Springfield to be a consultant.

4. But, Colt made machine guns and pistols! Yes, but in 1917, the US Army owned a total of 600 machine guns and about 10,000 pistols of various sorts, hardly massive procurements.

5. Worchester, MA was a depressed area?

6. The process was to put a known good receiver inside a magnetic field and measure the field strength. Then unknown receivers were placed in the same field and the field strength would not change if the steel was the same alloy, if the field changed the receiver was bad. A similar method utilizing the differences between ferrite, martensite and pearlite was used to weed out the brittle bolts.

7. Modern supporters of the FAL (and to a lesser extent the M240) have used this as “proof” the adoption of the M14 was a poor decision. The belief the FAL could have been fielded faster than the M14 shows a disregard for the facts of the time. Everything in this article would have applied to whichever rifle was adopted in March of 1957. In fact, the T48 data package was probably in worse shape than the T44E4 data package as many of the changes made by FN after the winter trials of 1956 were not converted to US standards, further, some of the drawings used by H&R were still metric. This meant that more money and effort would be required to bring the data up to date.

8. By this time H&R had increased it price to $96.33 a copy and Winchester to $91.00. Adjusting for inflation, that’s about 10% more than the last M1 Garand contract. Hmmm?

9. I’ll give McNamara this, the Department of Defense, then as now, could be rune a little more efficiently, but, it is not like a car company and certain capabilities should have been in-house.

10. Yes, there was the AR-10 available in the next few years, but it could never claim the reliability of the FN product. The fact that each contract with a different country had a reliability improvement in it shows that the AR-10 was never fully debugged during its production in Holland.

4,271 Posts
Discussion Starter #7
Other little factoids -

1. The bolt roller/lug interferring with the receiver goes back a long way . . . From a report in 1956:

2. An unblended cut near the right bolt locking lug appeared to cause the bolt to bind when going into battery.
2. The reason that a limited production run 500 rifles was requested after the 1954 Winter testing was the physical condition of the rifles being tested had deteriorated to the point where some of them were deemed unsafe. A report states:

d. The worn and damaged condition of the test rifles coupled with the varying degree of correction of previously reported deficiencies precludes proper determination of current comparative suitability of the test rifles.
. . . .
f. The rifles used in these tests should not be subjected to further test, but may be used for engineering study. They should not be fired until they are determined to be safe.
. . . .
8. RECOMMENDATIONS.—It Is recommended that:

a. New prototypes of the T44 and T48 rifles and their heavy barrel variants be fabricated incorporating modifications to correct deficiencies; be given engineering test; be further modified to correct any deficiencies noted during the engineering tests, and then be submitted bo Army Field Forces for user tests.
3. All of the FNs tested in these acceptance trials were manufactured in Belgium by FN. The Harrington & Richardson and High Standard T48 were a parallel project to vet the translation of FN's metric drawings to MIL-STD-100.

4. In 1956, CONARC tested several T48 from several sources against the T44. There were:

  • T48 as manufactured by H&R,
  • T48(M) as manufactured by H&R and modified to improve performance by Springfield,
  • FAL(FN) manufactured by FN with all modifications recommended by testing to this point (which, at this point was all of the acceptance testing)
  • FAL(UK) FN production weapons of the pattern requested by the UK.

Some of the differences:

Rifle (bare)................. 8.42..... 9.30..... 9.20......... 9.10............. 8.90*
Bayonet........................ 0.77..... 0.66..... 0.66........ 0.67............. 0.72
Grenade Launcher..... 0.44..... 0.34..... 0.34........ 0.34............. 0.34
Magazine (Empty)..... 0.53..... 0.54..... 0.58........ 0.53............. 0.56
Magazine (Loaded)... 1.53..... 1.54...... 1.58......... 1.53.............. 1.56

Dimensions (in)..................T44........T48........T48(M)......FAL(FN)......FAL(UK)

Length.............................. 44.19..... 44.69...... 44.69........ 44.63.......... 41.50*
Sight Radius (300 yd).. 26.69.... 22.06...... 22.06........ 22.00.......... 22.00

* no flash suppressor

Other differences between the various T48/FALs:

  • T48, T48(M) and FAL(FN) used the new two piece extractor with a coil spring, the FAL(UK) still uses the one piece design.
  • T49, T48(M) and FAL(FN) bolt beveled on rear end
  • T48, T48(M) narrowed ejector slot
  • T48, T48(M) piston beveled to retain piston spring.
  • T48(M) additional clearance between lower bolt face and receiver
  • T48(M) improved charging handle
  • T48(M) circumference of pistol grip reduced
  • T48(M) relief cuts in bolt carrier slide rails
  • T48(M) width of trigger reduced
  • T48(M) width of automatic sear reduced
  • T48(M) rear sight base strengthened
  • T48(M) relief cut on back of gas plug
  • T48(M) slot in front of gas plug widened
  • T48(M) front sight detent replaced with a screw.
  • FAL(UK) zig-zag sand cuts
  • FAL(UK) sand recesses cut in receiver
  • FAL(UK) bearing surface areas reduced
  • FAL (FN) hammer stop added so the hammer spring doesn't fly out if the trigger is pulled with the trigger housing loose or removed.
  • FN recommended the liberal use of graphite grease on their weapons, while the US made T48s were oiled only.
The five weapons were approximately equal. The graphite grease allowed for the FAL(FN) and FAL(UK) to out perform the US made T48s, and the sand cuts of the FAL(UK) improved performace in the simulated combat course.

Premium Member
15,435 Posts
Thanks for the thread. Nice to see it all under one cover.

Premium Member
4,751 Posts
I also thank those you contributed to this informative thread

4,271 Posts
Discussion Starter #11
Another fun tidbit:

December 1962 - the Army announced plans to procure 2.5 million M14s. This was based on complete replacement of all M1s in the active Army and Marine Corps and some of the National Guard and Reserves in case of war.

21 January 1963 - The Secretary of Defense announces no further M14 contracts will be awarded. This capped production at 1.38 million. This would just barely cover the active Army and Marine components, leaving a shortfall of at least 1.2 million rifles.

4 November 1963 - Colt is awarded a contract for 19,000 M16s and 85,000 M16A1s.

Any guesses as to how many M16A1 the Army eventually bought by 1972?

That's right 2-1/2 million.

4,817 Posts

Politics of insuring that US Army control of future weapons through SA (and others) was broken so politicians and appointed authorities would have more control/influence in the future.

Politics of insuring that the US Army could put weapons into the hands of just about anyone who would volunteer or be drafted and have them be able to carry it, operate it and hit a target with it (ever seen female soldiers cry while trying to qualify with an M14?, ever seen people who look like men but can't handle the recoil of a full power .30 caliber rifle?)

Politics of saving money (reducing the cost of both weapons and ammo for training).

The people who make these decisions will not be on the ground dodging enemy bullets. They never are. They are in the political arena kicking/gouging everyone else while trying to climb the ladder to more power, more influence, more money. They always are. And they don't care about the people they marry, the people they work with every day or the people who die somewhere far away because of the decisions they made, or influenced.

4,271 Posts
Discussion Starter #13
And, just to prove that any event causes a ripple down the linel, the January 1963 announcement that M14 production would be halted, the USMC saw that if there was a shortage of modern weapons, the Army would take priority. The Marines reacted by launching their own search for a replacement for the M1 and possible the M14. They picked the Stoner 63, rigorously tested it and it was recommended for adoption, however, possibly due to lack of funding, or possibly due to the fact that the Army was buying M16s, so believed that there would be enough M14 to go around. What might have been . . . .

There is a common myth that the Stoner 63 was "too complicated" for the average soldier or Marine, but fine for the "elite" special forces types. Not true.

The Marines version of troop trials included issuing Stoner 63s to a group of recruits in basic recruit training at Parris Island and they continued with them through Advanced Infantry Training. A control group was issued M14s. The two groups were meticulously organized with similar distributions of Armed Forces Qualification Test scores (the precursor to the ASVAB), heights, weights and PT scores. The reports from the training cadre were that in was easier to teach the recruits to maintain the Stoner than the M14 (and M1), rifle qualification scores averaged slightly higher, and in general, the recruits gave positive feed-back on the Stoner. Two similar group of Marines from the FMF was gathered at Quantico (again equal distributions of MOSs, AFQT, PT scores, and time in service) and one group tested the Stoner and one the M14, again the results showed that these Marines had no problem maintaining the Stoner. The only difference between the recruit groups and the groups gathered from the Fleet was that at Quantico, the magazine and belt fed version of the Stoner and the M14A1 were added to the mix.

4,271 Posts
Discussion Starter #14
The required number of spare parts to be provided with every 100 rifles:

RIVET / 10

Super Moderator
3,377 Posts
lysander - thanks for the great write-up - I really enjoyed the read!

Well I am glad they made the M14 and despite all the pro's and con's mentioned I still just love this rifle plain and simple! You know - just something about it - what else can I say! I have a special spot for the stock which I know inside and out and has some sweet lines!

Good stuff - M1Army

81 Posts
Excellent write up, The military had an abundance of weapons after ww2 and Korea. They were giving, lending them away so that the firearm manufacturers could continue with making arms, munitions for the coming war, cold war.

The Marines always knew that the Stoner 63 was a cutting edge weapon just as the Johnson was in early WW2. So the Springfield hierarchy, BIG ARMY, was deeply imbedded and was another branch of the military, and rightly so. But the Stoner was perfect for large or small caliber applications.

It was free enterprise that wedged itself into the politicians pockets, and blinded the lower echelons of the Armory as the old guard was retiring and was not going to change their steadfast way, although dated.

The military always liked to diversify after WW2 and bought and or developed equipment and weapon systems as the Germans did during the war. After all many of the idea's that the Germans were developing are now major weapon systems developed by Contractors for the U.S. Military. Allot of weapon development and military strategy was developed and refined with the Russians in mind, and the Chinese lesson learned later.

The M14 was a necessary developmental stage to further the increased application of a rugged magazine fed long range battle rifle to be used in the open battlefield. As the M14 was developed for a European battlefield, the M15, M16 was developed for close in limited range security of installations and aircrews downed in hostile area's. The 16 was, is a weapon that changed the way that all armies the world over chose to arm themselves.

The M14 however never went away as specialized platoons of highly trained and motivated operators knew of the effective application of long range security. Before the Barrett 50 BMG.

2,481 Posts
glad the spare parts are for 100 rifles.
if per rifle i would be lacking bad.
thanks for another great post.

476 Posts
Great research, great write-up. Thank you Lysander. I have thought about this question quite a lot. I will share my thoughts in the interest of discussion.

First, I think that the Cold War and the Vietnam War played large roles. There is a saying that militaries always prepare to fight the last war, and that is somewhat true in the case of the M14. The biggest threat facing us after WWII was unquestionably the Soviet Union. The worst case scenario is that we would be fighting again in Europe, and quite possibly in the Soviet Union itself. This had a major influence on the new rifle designs. The US insisted on a full power cartridge with this conflict in mind. The 600 meter range of such a cartridge could be used in much of Europe and the Soviet Union. (Whether you could train soldiers to utilize it is a different question, but the potential was there.) A war with the Soviets was also expected to be highly mechanized, and a full powered cartridge is effective against unarmored vehicles. You can see the influence in the M14 rifle too, with its 22 inch barrel to achieve peak velocity and retention of the M1's fine sights.

The war we got instead was Vietnam. There is no doubt that the M14 acquitted itself well there and won many devotees. However, that war was made for short rifles chambering intermediate cartridges. The terrain there usually forced engagements to be 300 meters or less. The Army's own 3 way trial between the AK-47, M16, and M14 showed that both of the others could put more fire on target than the M14 within that range.

Second was the long running program to try to increase hit rate and probability by increasing the number of projectiles a soldier could put in their air. Ultimately things coalesced around the Small Caliber High Velocity concept. Proponents hoped that by flattening the trajectory and minimizing the recoil, soldiers could use rapid or automatic fire to increase hit rate. All of this became embodied in the M16. The theory failed in the field, but we had to try it to find that out.

Third was Robert McNamara and his distaste for all things of government bureaucracy and inefficiency, as he defined them. The M16 was the poster child for his vision of government reform. It was a futuristic weapon at the time. It would be produced by private corporations and undercut bureaucracies he hated. The M14's production issues were an ideal "problem" for him to "solve" with his new vision of government.

I think these are the three main things that doomed the M14. They would likely have doomed any 7.62mm NATO rifle we adopted. As Lysander pointed out, there were problems with the technical data package for the FAL, and the AR-10 was not sufficiently developed, so both likely would have had their own particular teething problems. The push for a new weapon that would increase fire rate was strong, and we were looking to technology to solve the quagmire in Vietnam. So I think the adoption of the M16 was inevitable.

I do not think that replacing the M14 was necessary, and here is where I will anger the Cult Of Stoner. The M16 has served us very well and I would not dispute that. However, the 7.62mm NATO, the FAL, and the G3 / CETME went on to serve in Europe well into the 1980's and 90's, and even to this day in many nations. They have prevailed in conflicts around the world, including against forces armed with Kalashnikovs. I see no reason why the M14 could not have done the same. Europe's replacement of these systems was largely driven by a desire to get back to a common NATO standard cartridge with the US. Forces that continue to use the 7.62mm NATO weapons and cartridge do so because replacing them is not worth the cost, which means they are battlefield effective as far as those nations are concerned. When it comes to ammunition loadout, most of the weight is in the projectile. Therefore, there is not a large difference in weight between 7.62mm NATO and 7.62x39, especially when you factor in the heavy AK magazines (though M14 magazines aren't light).

It is also interesting to note that detractors of the M14 make much of its production problems, while glossing over the M16's problems when it first entered service. At the risk of oversimplifying, both had the same root cause: the inability to produce parts within required tolerances in sufficient quantities with sufficient speed. The problems were solved for the M16. They could have been solved for the M14. TRW got it right, and other manufacturers could have too.

All that said, the M14 has its flaws, and here is where I will anger the Cult Of M14. In my opinion, the biggest design flaw of the rifle as adopted is the traditional stock. I have shot mine extensively, both for fun and in competition, with both the original and the E2/A1 stock. The E2/A1 stock is superior for everything except bringing the rifle to shoulder from rest. The advantage of modern pistol grip stocks was demonstrated in WWII and well known when the Cold War battle rifles were developed. In my opinion, the E2/A1 stock should have been the standard (minus the extra hardware made for LMG use). The bolt roller is a subject much controversy. Eliminating it should have been seriously studied. The attachment of the op rod guide to the barrel should be more solid to eliminate play. Had the M14 remained in service, it would have gone through the same decades of iterative development that the M16 has enjoyed. There is no doubt that it would be a much different and much improved system today.

Would our troops have been better off if we had kept the M14? I don't know. While I don't think that replacing the M14 was a military necessity, the M16 did take a few steps forward in technology. There are too many variables in this question for me to go into in this already long post. In spite of detractors' opinions, I don't think the US military would have been diminished if we had kept the M14.

Extensive M1 Carbine and Rifle collections with current focus on standardized Army rifled arms
45 Posts
Very interesting history and worth saving,

We would not have been better off keeping the M14 as our main line arm.

The key issues regarding M14 replacement by the M16 weren't hardware or costs, although they played a part. The core issue was a change in combat firing doctrine. It hasn't been explained well. Hardware issues and contracting were very secondary.

This is going to be controversial of course,

It started in WWII. US forces armed with the M1 had a firepower advantage over the opponents. That advantage was overcome when opponents became armed with assault rifles.

Now we need to back away from the cartridge issue a bit. The this-cartridge-is-more-powerful-than-that-cartridge angle. The cartridge issue stimulated by the M1 Carbine and better by the German Sturmgewehr, allowed not only the self-loading advantages of the semi-autos put into use, but (here's the important part) increased the effective firing rate of the shooter.to put more hits onto the opponent. This advantage was noted by ordnance and infantry officials after the war and started efforts for a couple of small-caliber high-velocity efforts to gain increased combat power over the M1. Think of the .22-06 duplex M1, the small caliber high velocity work with the M1 Carbine, etc. During this period no adoptions were made, but instead ongoing post-war II Ordnance shortened the '06 cartridge and improved the M1 to provide the M14 we love.

But during this period the assault rifles were advanced by the Soviets and it became clear that the smaller faster firing arms had tactical advantages over the heavier arms. More cartridge were carried and automatic fire was more practical than with the heavier rifles.

The answer on the American side was adoption of a competitor to the AK... the AR. Basic ammo load moved from 100 rds to 210 with additional ammo in bandoleers common. The rate of fire went up not because of automatic fire, but because more disciplined shots could be fired in a short time than with the M1 or M14. Ya could just fight more intensely. While disciplined fire with the '06 or .308 was limited to 10 or 15 rounds per minute, the optimal firing rate with the 5.56 is north of 45 spm.

Even the Soviets learned... they shifted from 7.62 to 5.45 in their AKs and later arms.

The M14 is beautiful. I love it. Good wood, fine metal finishing, an elegant design. I hated the 16 so much that I dug into the records from Rodman Lab to prove that the 14 was superior and learned I was wrong. The 16 is a superior fighting arm..

Simple changes make it even a superior match rifle to a National Match M14. Today if you want to win the President's match at the Nationals you don't use an M14 or M1.

The bottom line is that there were institutional plots and favoritism around the Ordnance world, but in the end the 16 has been proven a superior arm for the soldier. Yes, the 14 is still in use because in some cases the 7.62 has advantages, but overall the 16 is superior. All the confusion, argument, tradition, production or design problems in the M1/M14 history became immaterial.

We learned from the Germans and Russians.

I really appreciating finding detailed history of 14 development on this site as noted above. It's really neat to see that we can buy great civil versions of the 14 today. I especially love the increasing availability of beautiful forged and machined commercial successors.


109 Posts
From the magazine Vietnam; M14 U.S. Marine Battle Rifle
The M14 was discountinued due to, the Hitchman report, dated 1952, stating based on a study of the requirements for infantry rifles at the time, questioned the concept of the M14, designed for firing distances of 500 yards. The report pointed out that the most effective range for modern rifles was 300 yards and most kills were at 100 yards or less.

The article goes on to talk about the M 14 weight vs the M16, and the goverment wanting a smaller caliber so more ammo could be carried by each soldier.

To me, they were trying to get ride of it years before it was built or studied in depth.
Funny that is still be used by our military in certain areas.
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