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definition - M1941_Johnson_rifle

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M1941 Johnson rifle

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Johnson M1941
File:M1941 johnson.JPG
TypeSemi-automatic rifle
Place of origin United States
Service history
In service1941–1945
Used bySee Users
Production history
DesignerMelvin Johnson
Number built~ 20 000
Weight9.5 lb (4.31 kg)
Length45.87 in (1,165 mm)
Barrel length22 in (559 mm)
Cartridge.30-06 Springfield
7x57mm Mauser
ActionShort-recoil, rotating bolt
Muzzle velocity2,840 ft/s (866 m/s)
Feed system10 round cylindrical magazine
SightsAdjustable Iron Sights

The M1941 Rifle was an American short-recoil operated semi-automatic rifle designed by Melvin Johnson prior to World War II. The M1941 competed unsuccessfully with the U.S. M1 Garand.



Senator Morris Sheppard, left, Chairman of the Senate Military Affairs Committee, Maj. Gen. George A. Lynch, U.S. Chief of Infantry, and Senator A.B. Chandler of Kentucky, inspect the Johnson semi-automatic rifle which may replace the Garand gas-operated rifle as the Army's standard shoulder weapon.

The M1941 rifle used the energy from recoil to operate the rifle. 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 the barrel and pressure in the bore had dropped to safe levels. The barrel then stopped against a shoulder allowing the bolt carrier to continue rearward under the momentum imparted by the initial recoil stage. A cam arrangement then rotated and unlocked the bolt to continue the operating cycle.[1] One disadvantage of this was design was its impact on the use of a bayonet, as the complex movements of the barrel would be subject to unacceptable stress when a bayonet thrust was used. The Johnson rifle utilized a unique 10-round rotary magazine and a two-piece stock.

This system had some advantages over the M1 Garand, including less perceived recoil and greater magazine capacity. Unfortunately, the Johnson's recoiling barrel mechanism resulted in excessive vertical shot dispersion that was never fully cured during its production life, and was prone to malfunction when a bayonet was attached to the reciprocating barrel. The Johnson also employed a number of small parts that were easily lost during field stripping. Partially because of lack of development, the M1941 Johnson was less rugged and reliable than the M1 Garand, though this was a matter of degree and was not a universal opinion among those that had used both weapons in combat.


Melvin Johnson campaigned heavily for the adoption of the Johnson rifle by the U.S. Army and other service branches. However, after limited testing, the U.S. Army rejected the Johnson in favor of the M1 Garand rifle developed by Springfield Armory.[2] The M1941 Johnson was ordered by the Netherlands for issue to its troops in the Dutch East Indies, but the Japanese invaded the islands before the rifles could be shipped from California. At this time, the U.S. Marine Corps found itself in need of a modern fast-firing infantry rifle, and acquired some rifles from the Dutch East Indies shipment for issue to its Paramarine battalions then preparing to deploy for action in the Pacific theatre. By all accounts, the M1941 Johnson performed acceptably in combat with the Marines in the early days of the Pacific fighting.

Despite repeated requests to adopt the rifle by the Marine Corps.[3], the Johnson rifle also lacked the support of US Army Ordnance, which had already invested considerable sums in the development of the M1 Garand and its revised gas operating system, then just going into full production. Johnson was successful in selling small quantities of the Johnson Light Machine Gun to the U.S. armed forces, and this weapon was later used by both Para-Marines and the Army's First Special Service Force.[4]

The Johnson rifle was also used in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion by the anti-Castro Brigade 2506.

Because it was produced in relatively small quantities the Johnson rifle has become a highly sought-after collectible by WWII collectors looking to complete their collections.



Melvin Johnson continued to develop small arms. In 1955, he was asked to assist Fairchild/ArmaLite in (unsuccessfully) promoting Eugene Stoner's AR-10 rifle with the U.S. Department of Defense, then with ArmaLite and Colt's Manufacturing Company as an advocate for the AR-15. The AR-15 used a similar bolt design to the M1941 Johnson. The AR-15 is still manufactured today in the guise of the M16 rifle and variants. One of his last postwar ventures was to promote a 5.7 mm version of the M1 Carbine, aka "the Spitfire".[5]

See also


  1. U.S. Patent 2,094,156
  2. History of Johnson Automatics
  3. Weeks, John, WWII Small Arms, Galahad Books, 1980
  4. Pikula, Sam (Maj.), The Armalite AR-10, 1998
  5. Barnes, Frank C., Cartridges of the World, DBI Books, 1989

Further reading

  • Smith, Joseph E., Small Arms of the World, Stackpole Books, 1969.
  • Weeks, John, WWII Small Arms, Galahad Books, 1980.
  • Barnes, Frank C., Cartridges of the World, DBI Books, 1989
  • Pikula, Sam (Maj.), The Armalite AR-10, 1998.
  • Canfield, Bruce N., Johnson Rifles and Machine Guns, Mowbray Publishing, 2002.

See also


All translations of M1941_Johnson_rifle

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