Johnson M1941 Semi-Automatic Rifle – Highly Prized By Gun Collectors
By John Kullman of FirearmsTruth.com
Michigan –-(Ammoland.com)- The iconic M1 Garand isn’t the only semi-automatic rifle used by combat troops in WWII.
Marine officer Melvin Johnson began work on what came to be known as the Johnson M1941 in 1935.
At the time, the army was convinced that the M1 was the rifle of the future and some have speculated that when Johnson’s rifle was tested against the M1, the deck was stacked against him. But the Marine Corp wasn’t convinced by the Army’s praise for the M1.
By 1940, a controversy grew between those who supported the M1 Garand and the Johnson Rifle. The press got involved and in February of 1940 the Washington Evening Star ran a series of articles entitled, “Battle Efficiency of Garand Rifle Provokes Controversy.” At the same time, the Rifleman published some articles that cast the Johnson Rifle in a favorable light. Life magazine called the Garand-Johnson battle “one of the greatest military squabbles in U.S. history.”
In the end, the Garand won out. Both rifles fired the same .30-06 cartridge and performed similarly in extensive testing. The Johnson has the advantage of having a 10 round built-in cylindrical magazine, compared to the Garand’s 8 round magazine. But the Johnson used the energy from recoil to eject and insert a new round. As the bullet and propellant gases moved down the barrel, they imparted a force on the bolt head that was locked to the barrel. The barrel, together with the bolt, moved a short distance rearward until the bullet left and the barrel and pressure in the bore had dropped to a safe level. When a standard bayonet was attached, the rifle became unbalanced and could easily malfunction. Because of this, and the fact that the M1 was already in production, Johnson’s design was rejected.
But he didn’t give up. By early 1941 he had completed refinements to the rifle and advertised the M1941 to other countries. The Netherlands orderd 70,000 of Johnson’s rifles to be used by troops defending the Dutch East Indies. The Japanese had their own plans for the East Indies and only a few thousand were delivered to the Dutch government in exile.
With America’s entry into WWII, the entire military was woefully short of weapons. At the time, the main battle rifle for the Marine Corp was the bolt-action Springfield. Most of the M1 Garands in stock were being procured by the Army, so the Corp looked to the Johnson to fill the gap. The newly formed Marine First Parachute Battalion was supplied with enough Johnson rifles to equip the unit prior to its deployment to the Solomons in 1942. As M1s became available, the Johnson was rotated out of active service.
The Office of Strategic Service used the Johnson in some clandestine mission into enemy territory. It has also been reported that the famous First Special Service Force, the ‘Devil’s Brigade’, used the Johnson rifle. And while the Johnson was rotated out of service in the U.S. military as quickly as possible, the M1941 did see action in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.
Approximately 70,000 M1941’s were produced during WWII. After the war, Johnsons were sold to civilians and ads for them ran until the mid-1960s when supply finally ran out.
Identifying an original M1941 is easy. The top of the receiver of the M1941 Johnson was marked:
- Cal. 30-06 Semi-Auto
- Johnson Automatics
- Model of 1941
- Made in Providence, R.I., U.S.A.
- Serial #
The right of the receiver was marked “Cranston Arms Co.” enclosed in a triangle. The Johnson rifles were serially numbered in blocks up to 10,000. The first block ran from 1 to 10,000. The second block had a B prefix, the third a C and son on. So, a Johnson rifle with the serial number B3345 was the 13,345th rifle produced. Records don’t indicate which batch of rifles were issued to the Marine Corp.
- Collectors who are interested in getting a M1941 Johnson in original military configuration should look at six things:
- All exterior metal surfaces are parkerized except for the bright finished bolt.
- The front of the barrel collar was marked “30-06” in the 12 o’clock position and “41” in the six o’clock position. There were some Johnson barrels made in .270 and 7mm caliber, but these were not used in the U.S. military service.
- The buttplate was checkered metal with no recoil pad
- The adjustable rear site was graduated for meters, not yards.
- The stock was plain and unadorned with no checkering or other embellishments.
- The barrel should have a bayonet lug.
John Kullman is managing editor of FirearmsTruth.com, a website that tracks and monitors media bias against guns and our Second Amendment rights. Visit: FirearmsTruth.com