Calibre/Item: Featured article
Licence Number: Informative article only
Comment: M14 rifle, officially the United States Rifle, 7.62 mm, M14,is an American selective fire automatic rifle that fires 7.62×51mm NATO 308 Winchester ammunition. It gradually replaced the M1 Garand in U.S. Army service by 1961 and in U.S. Marine Corps service by 1965. It was the standard issue infantry rifle for U.S. military personnel in the Contiguous United States, Europe, and South Korea from 1959 until it was replaced by the M16 rifle in 1970. The M14 was used for U.S. Army, Coast Guard and Marine Corps basic and advanced individual training (AIT) from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s.
The M14 was the last American "battle rifle" (weapons that fire full-power rifle ammunition, such as the 7.62×51 mm) issued in quantity to U.S. military personnel. The rifle remains in limited service in all branches of the U.S. military as an accurized competition and sniping weapon. It is also used as a ceremonial weapon by honor guards, color guards, drill teams, and ceremonial guards. The M14 serves as the basis for the M21 and M25 sniper rifles.
The M14 was developed from a long line of experimental weapons based upon the M1 rifle. Although the M1 was among the most advanced infantry rifles of the late 1930s, it was not a perfect weapon. Modifications were already beginning to be made to the basic M1 rifle's design during the last months of World War II. Changes included adding fully automatic firing capability and replacing the 8-round en bloc clips with a detachable box magazine holding 20 rounds. Winchester, Remington, and Springfield Armory's own John Garand offered different conversions. Garand's design, the T20, was the most popular, and T20 prototypes served as the basis for a number of Springfield test rifles from 1945 through the early 1950s.
In 1945, Earle Harvey of Springfield Armory designed a completely different rifle, the T25, for the new T65 .30 Light Rifle cartridge 7.62 x 49mm at the direction of Col. Rene Studler, then serving in the Pentagon. The two men were transferred to Springfield Armory in late 1945, where work on the T25 continued. The T25 was designed to use the T65 service cartridge, a Frankford Arsenal design based upon .30-06 cartridge case used in the M1 service rifle, but shortened to the length of the .300 Savage case. Although shorter than the .30-06, with less powder capacity, the T65 cartridge retained the ballistics and energy of the .30-06 due to the use of a recently developed ball powder made by Olin Industries. After experimenting with several bullet designs, the T65 was finalized for adoption as the 7.62×51mm NATO cartridge.Olin Industries later marketed the cartridge on the commercial market as the commercial .308 Winchester round. After a series of revisions by Earle Harvey and other members of the .30 Light Rifle design group following the 1950 Ft. Benning tests, the T25 was renamed the T47.
In contrast, the T44 prototype service rifle was not principally designed by any single engineer at Springfield Armory, but rather was a conventional design developed on a shoestring budget as an alternative to the T47. With only minimal funds available, the earliest T44 prototypes simply used T20E2 receivers fitted with magazine filler blocks and re-barreled for 7.62 mm NATO, with the long operating rod/piston of the M1 replaced by the T47's gas cut-off system. Lloyd Corbett, an engineer in Earle Harvey's rifle design group, added various refinements to the T44 design, including a straight operating rod and a bolt roller to reduce friction.
The T44 participated in a competitive service rifle competition conducted by the Infantry Board at Ft. Benning, Georgia against the Springfield T47 (a modified T25) and Fabrique Nationale's "Fusil Automatique Leger" (French for "Light Automatic Rifle"), designated T48. The T47, which did not have a bolt roller and performed worse in dust and cold weather tests than either the T44 or the T48, was dropped from consideration in 1953. During 1952–53, testing proved the T48 and the T44 roughly comparable in performance, with the T48 holding an advantage in ease of field stripping and dust resistance, as well as a longer product development lead time. A Newsweek article in July 1953 hinted that the T48/FAL might be selected over the T44. During the winter of 1953–54, both rifles competed in the winter rifle trials at U.S. Army facilities in the Arctic. Springfield Armory engineers, anxious to ensure the selection of the T44, had been specially preparing and modifying the test T44 rifles for weeks with the aid of the Armory's Cold Chamber, including redesign of the T44 gas regulator and custom modifications to magazines and other parts to reduce friction and seizing in extreme cold. The T48 rifles received no such special preparation, and in the continued cold weather testing began to experience sluggish gas system functioning, aggravated by the T48's close-fitting surfaces between bolt and carrier, and carrier and receiver. FN engineers opened the gas ports in an attempt to improve functioning, but this caused early/violent extraction and broken parts as a result of the increased pressures. As a result, the T44 was ranked superior in cold weather operation to the T48. The Arctic Test Board report made it clear that the T48 needed improvement and that the U.S. would not adopt the T48 until it had successfully completed another round of Arctic tests the following winter.
In June 1954, funding was finally made available to manufacture newly fabricated T44 receivers specially designed for the shorter T65 cartridge. This one change to the T44 design saved a pound in rifle weight over that of the M1 Garand.Tests at Ft. Benning with the T44 and T48 continued through the summer and fall of 1956. By this time, the T48/FAL rifles had been so improved that malfunction rates were almost as low as the T44.
In the end, the T44 was selected over the T48/FAL primarily because of weight (the T44 was a pound lighter than the T48), simplicity (the T44 had fewer parts), the T44's self-compensating gas system, and the argument that the T44 could be manufactured on existing machinery built for the M1 rifle (a concept that later turned out to be unworkable). In 1957, the U.S. formally adopted the T44 as the U.S. infantry service rifle, designated M14.
Initial production contracts for the M14 were awarded to the Springfield Armory, Winchester, and Harrington & Richardson. Thompson-Ramo-Wooldridge Inc. (TRW) would later be awarded a production contract for the rifle as well. 1,376,031 M-14 service rifles were produced from 1959 to 1964.
Springfield Armory produced 6,641 new M14 NM rifles in 1962 and 1963, while TRW produced 4,874 new M14 NM rifles in 1964. Springfield Armory later upgraded 2,094 M14 rifles in 1965 and 2,395 M14 rifles in 1966 to National Match specifications, while 2,462 M14 rifles were rebuilt to National Match standards in 1967 at the Rock Island Arsenal. A total of 11,130 National Match rifles were delivered by Springfield Armory, Rock Island Arsenal, and TRW during 1962-1967.
Production M14 rifles made by Springfield Armory and Winchester used forged receivers and bolts milled from AISI 8620 steel, a low-carbon molybdenum-chromium steel. Harrington & Richardson M-14 production used AISI 8620 steel as well, except for ten receivers milled from AISI 1330 low-carbon steel and a single receiver made from high-nickel-content alloy steel.
After the M14's adoption, Springfield Armory began tooling a new production line in 1958, delivering the first service rifles to the U.S. Army in July 1959. However, long production delays resulted in the 101st Airborne Division being the only unit in the Army fully equipped with the M14 by the end of 1961. The Fleet Marine Force finally completed the change from M1 to M14 in late 1962. Springfield Armory records reflect that M14 manufacture ended as TRW, fulfilling its second contract, delivered its final production increment in Fiscal Year 1965 (1 July '64 – 30 June '65). The Springfield archive also indicates the 1.38 million rifles were acquired for just over $143 million, for a unit cost of about $104.
The rifle served adequately during its brief tour of duty in Vietnam. Though it was unwieldy in the thick brush due to its length and weight, the power of the 7.62 mm NATO cartridge allowed it to penetrate cover quite well and reach out to extended range, developing 2,560 ft·lbf (3,463 J) of muzzle energy. However, there were several drawbacks to the M14. The traditional wood stock of the rifle had a tendency to swell and expand in the heavy moisture of the jungle, adversely affecting accuracy. Fiberglass stocks were produced to resolve this problem, but the rifle was discontinued before very many could be distributed for field use. Also, because of the M14's powerful 7.62×51 mm cartridge, the weapon was deemed virtually uncontrollable in fully automatic mode, so most M14s were permanently set to semi-automatic fire only to avoid wasting ammunition in combat.
The M14 was developed as a means of taking the place of four different weapons systems—the M1 rifle, the M1 Carbine, the M3 "Grease Gun" and the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). It was thought that in this manner the M14 could simplify the logistical requirements of the troops by limiting the types of ammunition and parts needed to be supplied. It proved to be an impossible task to replace all four, and the weapon was even deemed "completely inferior" to the World War II M1 in a September 1962 report by the comptroller of the Department of Defense. The cartridge was too powerful for the submachine gun role and the weapon was simply too light to serve as a light machine gun replacement for the BAR
The M14 remained the primary infantry weapon in Vietnam until it was replaced by the M16 in 1966–1967, though combat engineer units kept them several years longer. Further procurement of the M14 was abruptly halted in late 1963 due to the above-mentioned Department of Defense report which had also stated that the AR-15 (soon to be M16) was superior to the M14 (DOD did not cancel FY 1963 orders not yet delivered). After the report, a series of tests and reports by the U.S. Department of the Army followed that resulted in the decision to cancel the M14. The M16 was then ordered as a replacement for the M14 by direction of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1964, over the objection of those Army officers who had backed the M14 (other factions within the Army research and development community had opposed the M14 and the 7.62×51 mm round from the start). Though production of the M14 was officially discontinued, some disgruntled troops managed to hang on to them while deriding the early model M16 as a frail and under-powered "Mattel toy" that was prone to jam. In late 1967, the U.S. Army designated the M16 as the "Standard A" rifle, and the M14 became a "Limited Standard" weapon. The M14 rifle remained the standard rifle for U.S. Army Basic Training and troops stationed in Europe until 1970.
The U.S. Army also converted several thousand M14s into the M21 sniper rifle, which remained standard issue for this purpose until the adoption of the M24 SWS in 1988.
In 1969, tooling for the M14 was sold to Taiwan and later many rifles were exported to Baltic countries and Israel.