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Marine Model M1941 Johnson Rifle

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  • Marine Model M1941 Johnson Rifle

    To view high resolution photos of the Johnson rifle, sight details, and all drawings by PVT. Treadway and letters to Melven Johnson please visit the following link: Johnson Rifle

    In the past ten to fifteen years there has been a greater (much greater) interest in the Johnson 1941 semi-automatic rifle. This increased interest has led to skyrocketing prices. In the 1960’s, a Johnson could be obtained in the $100 to $120 range. Today they are more like $3,400 to $4,000 with some bidding going over $7,000. Included in this renewed interest in the Johnson rifle, are the various myths and stories which abound and which are promulgated by the uninformed and the hucksters who embellish or denigrate the Johnson that they may want to sell or purchase. One of the fanciful stories that are thrown around the gun show circuit is that the M-1941 Johnson rifle on the table is a “marine model” and saw service in the Southwest Pacific. This probably has more to do with the lack of concrete, primary source information which was unavailable to the general public over the years rather any sinister intent.

    The l941 semi-automatic rifle and later the M-1941 and 1944 light machine guns were the brain child of gun enthusiast and lawyer (Harvard Law School) Melvin Johnson Jr. In a very short period of time he designed and worked out the innumerable bugs for a short recoil, rotary magazine, semi-automatic rifle. In 1936, John Garand’s rifle, the M-1, was adopted by the U.S. Army and thus the Johnson rifle was a little bit late in the trials and acceptance by the U.S. Army. This was the same year that Melvin Johnson Jr. came up with a prototype of his rifle with which to obtain a patent! Melvin Johnson did not try to derail the M-1 rifle program nor did he try to have M-1 rifle production stopped so that his rifle could be produced instead. He did feel that both the Johnson 1941 rifle and light machine gun had their place….especially in the U.S. Marine Corps which always got cast offs from other branches of the service due to their smaller, if not more specialized units and missions.

    To put this into his own words which came from an undated document entitled,

    Statement of Melvin M. Johnson, Jr.,

    President Johnson Automatics, Inc.

    Relative to a so-called Garand Vs. Johnson Rifle Controversy

    “In conclusion we must respectfully deny any specific criticism of the Garand M-1 rifle if we had been obliged to make comparisons with this rifle in the past. I have personally fired the Garand Rifle on several occasions and made some very excellent rapid-fire scores with it at 600 yards. I personally believe that it has very many admirable features, while at the same time I believe that it has certain features which are not desirable. I do however believe that a soldier who has had proper instruction with this weapon can operate it satisfactorily under average field conditions, and I personally condemn any criticism of the Garand Rifle which tends to destroy the American Soldier’s confidence in the Garand Rifle as it is a weapon with which he can properly defend himself in battle.”

    Melvin Johnson Jr. worked unceasingly with the Marine Corps as he was a Lieutenant and then a Captain in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Thus he had a special mission to try to get a better weapons into the hands of the Marine Corps than the 1903 Springfield and the BAR automatic rifle. While he worked with the Corps unceasingly, while working with other governments in order to get a contract and pay the bills. One of these potential clients was prewar France, as well as the Netherlands. The “French Connection” did not transpire due to the march of events in 1939 and 1940. The Netherlands did purchase both Johnson rifles and light machine guns. Thus we have two basic groups of Johnson rifles; those sold to the Netherlands and those used in very small quantities by the U.S. Marine Corps.

    The Netherlands contract resulted in approximately 30,000 (or less) of the l941 rifles. These rifles had three distinct sets of serial numbers; from 1 to 10,000 with no prefix, then the second batch had an “A” prefix and finally the last batch had a “B” prefix. I have seen articles and stories at the gun show circuit, of the “C”, “D”, “E”, “F” prefix. Well, it never happened. I have been to more gun shows and gun stores than I dare tell my wife about and I have looked at large numbers of Johnson rifles. The serial number prefix beyond “B” does not exist!! Furthermore, I have researched the actual manufacturing/shipping ledgers from Johnson Automatics which had been in storage since the cessation of business at Johnson Automatics. There were three ledgers, as I have mentioned earlier, and no more…period. Due to the rapid movement of the war, most of these export rifles never fired a shot in anger and thus they are found in very good or better condition. Storage/shipping marks deter from the overall condition of these rifles more than any combat fatigue.

    In the early 1960’s, International Armament Corp. (Interarmco) came upon the treasure trove of Johnson M-1941 rifles purchased by the Netherlands and subsequently purchased them from an underling for a paltry sum. So little, in fact that the Netherlands’s Parliament was outraged enough to and pass a law that all future sales of surplus equipment had to go through the parliament for approval. These were then sold by Interarmco for around $100 in the early 1960’s. Winfield Arms Co. sold some of these Johnson rifles in the military configuration, as well as highly sporterized versions, much to the chagrin of military collectors.

    The U.S. Marine Corps rifles are a story completely separate and different from the Netherlands rifles. First of all there were very few M-1941 rifles used by the Marine Corps. Except for a few prototype and test rifles, the rest went to the Southwest Pacific in order to lend greater firepower to the Marines who were mostly equipped with the venerable 1903 Springfield rifle. Of course these Johnson rifles were not used in any fighting early in the war such as when the Philippines or Wake Island were invaded. They made their first debut on Guadalcanal and the environs of that Island; Choseul, Guvutu and Tonobago. Both the Johnson rifles and the Johnson M-1941 light machine gun gave excellent service in these early engagements and were given very high marks when they repelled the attacking Japanese trying to retake Henderson Field. Both of these weapons proved superior to the M-1903 Springfield and the BAR in delivering a high rate of firepower under difficult conditions.

    The beginning of the Johnson Marine Corps saga begins in the early days of the rifle’s development. A new, unproven design does not get issued to the Corps until it can be properly tested to see how it will hold up in combat.

    In September, 1939 the first tests of the Johnson rifle were given by Captain Van Orden (USMC) at Wakefield, Massachusetts. In December 1939, unrelated tests were carried out at Aberdeen Proving grounds in Maryland on two R-2 rifles. The “R” designates a Johnson rifle with a 10-round rotary magazine which could be topped off using 5-round Springfield charger clips. Those in attendance at the Aberdeen Proving Ground demonstrations were Lt. Col. Merritt Edson, USMC and Captain George O. Van Orden, USMC. Colonel Merritt Edson was to distinguish himself on Guadalcanal in 1942 at Edson’s Ridge and received the Medal of Honor.

    Another test at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia was conducted for members of Congress, the Chief of Staff and a number of other officials. In attendance were Colonel Pedro del Valle, Lt. Col. Merritt A. Edson and Captain George O. Van Orden all of the U.S. Marne Corps. Melvin Johnson was starting to get attention for his rifle in the right places.

    On March 12, 1940 Melvin Johnson Jr. offers the Johnson 1941 rifle to the U.S. Marine Corps.for adoption. His letter states:

    Major General Commandant

    Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps

    Washington D.C.

    Dear Sirs:

    We take pleasure at this time in offering you for consideration for adoption by the Marine Corps the Johnson Semi-Automatic Rifle, Cal. .30-06 (M-1 and M-2), with rotary feed magazine of 10-round capacity (plus 1 round in chamber making total capacity 11 rounds). A copy of our handbook giving its specifications and other pertinent date in connection therewith is enclosed.

    This is the same type of rifle that was submitted to and tested by the Ordnance Department of the United States Army during the last two weeks of December, 1939, which tests were witnessed by:

    Major M.A. Edson

    Major J.H. Strother

    Captain G. O. Van Orden

    representing the U.S. Marine Corps. The performance of our rifle and its characteristics demonstrated during such tests are no doubt familiar to you. All rifles used in those tests were made from production drawings fully developed for this organization by the Taft-Peirce Manufacturing Company of Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

    These rifles have been fully developed and engineered for large-scale production (see article by C.B. Gardiner in MACHINERY for January, 1940, a reprint of which is likewise enclosed), and on the basis thereof it is estimated that deliveries can be commenced within 6 to 12 months of receipt of order.

    We have also negotiated for an tentatively been assured of adequate facilities for the production of these rifles at rates of from 50 to 1000 rifles per day, subject to final arrangements being made upon receipt of a substantial order of orders.

    Based upon very thorough estimates made for us and checked with various independent manufacturers, we feel that we can furnish these rifles in reasonable quantities, at a cost to you less than that of any other available semi-automatic rifle of the caliber in question. Manufacturing arrangements would be made through American Semi-Automatic Arms Corporation, United States licensee, which corporation is presently owned and controlled by this organization.

    As to the continued availability of these rifles and parts therefore, we feel warranted in assuring you, because of the active interest by friendly foreign countries, that once production has been begun it will continue indefinitely. Furthermore, all parts except barrels can be made in any reasonably well equipped machine shop from standard manufacturing drawings. Standard Springfield, Remington, Winchester, Savage or other barrels may be readily utilized if desired in place of barrels of our own specifications. For your protection we should be glad to include a licensing provision in any arrangements made with the Marine Corps, so that it could manufacture or procure manufacture in the event that we should cease to do so.

    In conclusion, we should be very happy to have the opportunity of furnishing the Marine Corps with these rifles, and to arrange to quote prices and discuss terms as to any quantity that might be desired at this time.

    We wish to take this opportunity to express our appreciation of the interest which the Marine Corps has shown in the development and testing of our weapon, and for the many courtesies which have been extended to our organization by the Marine Corps in the past.

    Respectfully yours,

    Johnson Automatics, Inc.

    Melvin M. Johnson Jr. President

    On May 29, 1940 Lt. Col. Edson appeared before the Committee on Military Affairs concerning S-3983 of the U.S. Senate. This bill, if passed would provide for adoption of the Johnson Rifle for U.S. Forces. Melvin M. Johnson appears before the same Committee. There was a keen interest in his rifle, but the bill did not pass and did not change the course of history. The final blow for the mass procurement of Johnson rifles came in a letter from the Marine Corps Commandant more than a year before hostilities developed between the United States and the Axis powers.

    Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps


    24 June, 1940


    Referring to your letter of March 20, 1940, the Marine Corps is not a sufficiently large organization to undertake the development and procurement of a semi-automatic rifle which has not been adopted as standard equipment for the U.S. Army or U.S. Navy. In time of major emergency we must look to these larger organizations for the supply of our small arms and spare parts therefore.

    We appreciate the information contained in your letter and the offer to furnish the Marine Corps with a quantity of Johnson Semiautomatic rifles. However, it would be decidedly unsound practice to procure any rifle in quantity which has not undergone a thorough field test to demonstrate its suitability as a service weapon prior to its adoption as a standard weapon.

    After very careful consideration, it has been decided that we cannot accept your offer for the reasons previously stated.`

    Very truly yours,

    T. Holcomb

    Major General Commandant.

    It is an interesting to note from the Commandants letter concerning the Marine Corps and weapons that were not standard with the Army or Navy. The marines later procured Reising submachine guns to augment their supply of rapid fire weapons; the Reising got poor marks for its reliability in combat with the marines.

    This should be the end of the story on the Johnson M-1941 rifle and the U.S. Marine Corps. However, that is not how it works in Washington, D.C. or with weapons procurement carried out by the various services, U.S. Ordnance not withstanding.

    On August 18, 1940 the Detroit Sunday Times had an article entitled “Marines Turn Thumbs Down on Garand Rifle – Leathernecks’ Prefer Gun Invented by Ex-Officer in Corps”.

    “There is only one semiautomatic rifle as far as members of the United States Marine Corps League are concerned…it’s the Johnson rifle. The marines, by unanimous vote, have turned thumbs down on the Garand rifle, which the government is building at the rate of only 1,000 a month.”

    On September 25, 1940 the U.S. Marine Corps asks for four rifles for test; one to be fired to destruction. The two rifles which were sent were Serial No. R -15 and R – 17 fitted with barrels S-28 and S-30 respectively. The request was made by Lt. Col. Merritt Edson to Melvin M. Johnson Jr. They were to be equipped with 22-inch barrels, one dagger bayonet, spare parts, one micrometer peep sight, one standard military type peep sight. They were delivered on October 30 and were valued at $2,000 each as they were basically hand made and hand fitted prototypes. The spare parts were valued at $200.

    On November 12, 1940 a competitive tests were held at Marine Corps Base No. B, San Diego, California. The tests included not only the Johnson rifle, but 12, 1903 Springfields, 12, M-1 Garands and 4, Winchester experimental semi-automatic rifle. The tests were completed on December 12, 1940.

    Excerpts from the test results are as follows:

    “The Johnson rifle was superior to the other semi-automatic rifles in the abuse tests, not because it functioned mechanically, but because it could always be manually operated with comparative ease.”

    “Both rifles, Johnson and Garand, had the same percentage of technical malfunctions in the endurance test. The other Johnson Rifle No. R15 had less malfunctions, and the other three Garand Rifles had less than that.”

    “In the first 5,150 rounds of the endurance test, the Garand had a percentage of 1.9% malfunctions. The Johnson No. R17 at Aberdeen 5,150 round test had 0.9% malfunctions, or less than half as many, and had two broken, and one replaced parts. The total of 5,150 rounds at Aberdeen plus 5,148 rounds in the first of the San Diego endurance test with Johnson R17 gives a total of 10,298 rounds which can be more accurately compared with the 10,298 rounds fired in the Garand No. 13 as follows: Johnson R17 percentage of malfunctions 2.6%."

    A comparison of the Johnson with the Springfield and the Garand in this test is as follows:

    Johnson – 10.25 shots per minute, 4.30 hits per minute, efficiency percentage 0.419.

    Garand – 12 shots per minute, 4.23 hits per minute, efficiency percentage 0.352.

    Springfield – 8.8 shots per minute, 3.85 hits per minute, efficiency percentage 0.437.

    There are other items in the test report which gives the semi-auto rifles greater ease and accuracy over the Springfield rifle but this but this is out of the scope of this article.

    Johnson rifle, Serial No. S-1 (sample #1) was fired 19 April, 1941 at 4:53 PM Eastern Standard Time. The first shot fired was ejected from the rifle. Johnson Automatics could now begin assembly line production of rifles for the Netherlands. Thus when the U.S. Marine Corps requested 100 Johnson rifles in September, 1941, their request had to be turned down due to the production of rifles for the Netherlands. This did not preclude the corps from ordering and using the M-1941 Johnson light machine gun in order to increase the fire power of marine units. As time went on, Johnson Automatics diverted rifles from the Netherlands order and sent them to the marines. On August 7, 1942 the U.S. Marines land on Red Beach, Guadalcanal. They were primarily armed with Springfield rifles reportedly because of Marine Corps preference) with some M-l rifles sprinkled in as well. They also had a number of M-1941 rifles and light machine guns. Once the marines saw the advantages of the semi-automatic rifle, such as the M-1, they tried to obtain one by any means possible…. including midnight requisition.

    In September, 1942 the Japanese attacked Henderson airfield and Johnson rifles and machine guns aided in providing firepower to repel the enemy.

    In 1943, a Special Marine Corps Parachute Raider Battalion operated with three teams of three men per squad plus the squad leader. Each team was armed with one M-1941 Johnson LMG and two M-1941 Johnson semi-automatic rifles. It is presumed that the squad leader was armed with a weapon of his choice.

    On March 13, 1943 ten Johnson rifles were loaned to the USMC Equipment Board at Quantico, Virginia. They were rifle numbers: B7642, A8899, B7269, A9967, B7349, B4562, B8082, B4135, B8057 and B4426. However, don’t go running down to your gun vault to see if your Johnson has one of these serial numbers…they were all destroyed in a fire and Johnson was reimbursed to the tune of $1,305.00 for their loss.

    On January 3, 1944 Melvin M. Johnson Jr. sends a note of thanks to the First Marine Parachute Regiment for their help in testing and using his weapons. No more Johnson rifles were to be produced as the contract to the Netherlands Purchasing Commission was completed and the U.S. Marine Corps had only purchased token quantities of Johnson rifles. He would now concentrate on producing and improving the light machine guns and to a certain extent the Johnson rifle. By January, 1945 development work on the rifle is nearing the end.

    On October 28, 1944, 100 Johnson M-1941 rifles were up for bid by the U.S. Marine Corps and Johnson Automatics receives a bid form at that time. In February 12, 1945 Johnson Automatics receives a letter stating that his bid of $50.00 per rifle has been accepted. Although an invoice is made out for the amount, there are no serial numbers attached to the invoice. Which rifles these were is anyone’s guess today. In May, 1947 the rifles were sold for $110.00 primarily to law enforcement personnel. Later these prices increase to $250.00 for the general public as completely reconditioned rifles.

    The sale of rifles to the U.S. Marine Corps and also to the U.S. Army must have been extremely frustrating to Melvin Johnson and Johnson Automatics. It was probably a case of too little too late as the M-1 rifle was being mass produced and any delay in the manufacture of this rifle, considering world events, would have been unwarranted if not catastrophic. Many have talked of various reasons why the Johnson rifle was not adopted and reliability and field maintenance are at the top of the list. . However, let it be said that those who used it in combat had nothing but praise for it. The quick change barrel, its ability to be loaded with loose rounds or the 5-round Springfield clips, its accuracy and reliability were all positive aspects of the Johnson. Some say that the rotary magazine could be easily dented or that it was hard to field strip. However these comments do not reflect the opinions of the marines who used it in some of the toughest climatic conditions in the world.

    A letter was received by Melvin Johnson at Johnson Automatics from Platoon.Sgt. Arthur R Graham written 24 September, 1945. It states:

    Dear Captain:

    This letter has a dual purpose, one – to express my enthusiasm for and appreciation of your weapons and second to obtain a bit of information.

    I was a member of Company “A” First Parachute Battalion when you first introduced us to the Johnson weapons, first the Light Machine Gun, then the Carbine and later the Johnson Rifle. I was armed with the rifle and as one who appreciates a good rifle you can imagine how proud I was of it.

    I feel it is my duty to tell you I never saw one of your weapons fail in combat, the Johnson light machine gun is in a class by itself. You can readily perceive how disappointing it was to turn these weapons in upon the disbandment of our unit.

    My quest for information is on the following tack, will your rifle be on the market in the near future and what will be its price range? Any information as to the procedure necessary to obtain one of your rifles will be gratefully received.

    I wish to thank you in advance for your cooperation.

    Very truly yours,

    Arthur R. Graham

    Plat. Sgt. U.S. Marine Corps.

    Another story of a marine who used a Johnson rifle from Guadalcanal and through the various island campaigns was Private Treadway, USMC. He used the rifle against the enemy in a number of encounters, especially when the Japanese tried to retake Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, and thought highly of it. He wanted to purchase one from Johnson Automatics but production schedules did not allow this to be done. Furthermore Melvin Johnson had received a letter dated March 23, 1945 from General G.C. Thomas (USMC) stated: “Since every Marine in a combat area is provided with an individual weapon, according to the specific duty which may have been assigned him, there is no real necessity for sending privately owned weapons overseas. Although Private Treadway did not get his personal Johnson rifle, he did do a number of charcoal drawings of marines in action with the Johnson rifle and light machine gun. Johnson Automatics paid Pvt. Treadway $25.00 each for these drawings. Later he did a sculpture, from a tropical hardwood, of a marine using a Johnson light machine gun. Pvt. Treadway, after fighting, and surviving, across so many jungle battlefields, was killed on Okinawa.

    Johnson M-1941 rifle – Serial No. A 5264

    On November 10, `1944 Johnson Automatics receives a letter from lst Lieut. M.A. Sorensen, Salvage Officer, USMC, San Francisco, CA. that 100 Johnson M-1941 rifles, in serviceable condition, are being sold as surplus. On February 5th, 1945 Johnson Automatics is informed that they are the successful bidder for 100 Johnson rifles for $50.00 each. A USMC invoice from the Depot of Supplies dated February 12, 1945 states the final figure of $5,000.00 with a $1,250.00 deposit being paid for the rifles. Much to the chagrin of this writer and to collectors of Johnson rifles, a list of serial numbers does not accompany the invoice, nor was one ever found in the files, by this writer.

    The Johnson rifle in the author’s collection was the subject of investigation for a number of years. Purchased, via trade, in 1961 for the equivalent of $55.00 it was displayed on the author’s gun rack as a mere item of interest. The sales transaction came with the one small piece of information, “It was used by the U.S. Marine Corps in WWII.” This didn’t pique my interest as Johnson’s were being sold at very reasonable prices due to minimal interest in them at the time. More interest was given to M-1 rifles and carbines than to Johnson rifles at that time.

    In the early 1970’s the author was working on his Masters Degree in at Yale University in New Haven, CT when he was introduced to Melvin Johnson’s family. After a short discussion permission was given to peruse the extensive files of Johnson Automatics that had been languishing in storage for decades. For a history buff/gun collector this was a dream made in heaven. The files were stored in the basement and were musty with some water damage from recent rains that seeped into the basement. These files were just as they were since the heyday of Johnson Automatics…rusty paper clips, deteriorating file boxes, and all.

    It wasn’t long before I found the manufacturing/shipping ledger for the Johnson rifles. These consisted of three ledgers; the first batch of 10,000 without the prefix, the second with an “A” prefix and the last with the “B” prefix. I quickly looked up the serial number for my rifle and found the following:

    Manufacture date: October 8, 1942

    Barrel No. 2827G

    Hammer block No. A5114

    Bolt No. B0262

    Locking Cam No. A4447

    Firing Pine No. C3191

    Extractor No. F1253

    Date of Disposition: October 9, 1942

    Disposition: Netherlands Purchasing Commission

    It wasn’t until I began going through more files that I found a letter to the U.S. Marine Corps stating that an undisclosed number of Johnson M-1941 rifle had been sent to the Marine Corps Base at Camp Pendleton on October 9, 1942. This was normal procedure between Johnson Automatics and the U.S. Marine Corps; both rifles and light machine guns would be pulled from the Johnson plant at Cranston, R.I. and sent to the marines. This is the only way that these rifles and machine guns could be sent to the marines as the U.S. Marine Corps did not have a signed contract with Johnson Automatics for any weapons. Melvin Johnson was a good friend of Lt. Col Merritt Edson who was trying to put together the First Marine Raider Battalion and was trying to beg, borrow and steal modern weapons to increase the firepower of this mobile marine unit.

    These two pieces of information convinced me of the fact that this particular rifle was used by the marines. There were a couple of other items that were unusual for this rifle. First of all, the front sight protectors had been removed on each side of the front sight. This was a modification done by the Marine Raiders so that the marine wouldn’t mistake a sight guard for the front sight in the heat of battle and the thick vegetation of the jungle. When they were first issued the M-1 rifle they also were concerned about the front sight with the large sight protectors, as they were familiar to the M-1903 Springfield rifle which merely had a front sight without any sight protectors to distract them when firing the weapon. The front sight “ears” on the M-1 was also a point of concern for National Match participants as in the heat of firing the shooter could sight on one of the ears and not the front sight.

    The rear sight of this Johnson had been replaced with a M-1903-A3 aperture sight. This was certainly a matter of “field expediency” in the far flung reaches of the southwest Pacific, far from the normal supply lines. A letter dated May 3, 1945 from Platoon. Sgt. H.W. Emree USMC, H & S Co, 22nd Marines, 6th Marine Division brings this problem to the fore considering the limited quantity number of the non-standard Johnson rifles and light machine guns in service.

    Dear Sir:

    It was my privilege to be member of the Testing Squad at the Marine Corps Rifle Range in San Diego while experiments were being carried out with the Johnson, Winchester, and M-1 Semi Automatic Rifles during the fall of 1940.

    At that time you were developing and improving a light machine gun similar to the rifle; about a year ago I had the good fortune to obtain one (#0242) through an intimate associate who was a member of the Paratroop’s and have been carrying it ever since.

    The opportunity to put it into operation has arisen at various occasions and it’s performance was exceedingly excellent. Your idea of the horizontal magazine loaded with five round clips, is simple and efficient. This simplified method has insured prompt reloading and has enabled me to transfer magazines with precision. Never have I been confronted by an empty magazine.

    Approximately 4,000 rounds of ammunition have been fired. During the weapons operation, stoppages were very few and insignificant. From personal experience with numerous types of weapons which are under the Marine Corps surveillance it is my firm belief that as an all around weapon, it is superior to the BAR.

    At the present moment it is difficult to obtain spare parts; although the 4th Regiment was equipped with a few I managed to acquire an extra barrel. But at this precise moment I am in desperate need of another magazine, a complete rear sight, striker, and an extractor. I would deeply appreciate it if at your convenience you would kindly forward a price list of spare parts by return mail. Also, would it be possible to purchase direct from you one of your redesigned Johnson Light Machine Guns to which my attention has been recently attracted.

    I remain

    Sincerely Yours,

    H.W. Emree

    Plt. Sgt. USMC

    This letter not only points out the fact that parts for the Johnson’s were hard to come by, but it also is a good example of what combat infantrymen thought of the Johnson weapons in combat under the most trying conditions. The Johnson LMG had the same basic system as the rifle and thus problems did not appear in either weapon due to its short recoil action, the feed system, or stamped parts scattered within the weapons.

    As the war moved across the PTO marine and army units crossed paths and fought in the same battle. This is probably where the 1903-A3 rear sight was obtained as the marines were equipped with the older 1903 Springfield before they received M-1 rifles and M-1 carbines.

    The rifle has seen extended service under rough conditions and it is not one of the excellent to pristine Johnson rifles that were released by the Netherlands. The rifle barrel has seen prolonged firing. A bore scope was used on the barrel and although the throat is not shot out, the lands are shallow from use. Near the end of the barrel is a small crack which may have been caused by a round being fired when there was an obstruction in the barrel.

    At the top of the stock wrist, a piece of wood had splintered off due to the recoil of prolonged firing. This has been put back on with the use of small brads. Another point of interest is that the stock is dark black and not a bright walnut finish as is the case with rifles that have seen little of no service, such as the NPC rifles. I can only speculate, as a profession forester and one who had worked extensively with wood that this is due to the reaction of linseed oil and a hot, humid tropical environment. This fact has been substantiated by the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin.

    A number of the parts do not match those that were on the rifle when it left the factory. Evidently these were replaced as they fell into disrepair and could have come from a salvaged rifle that was cannibalized. Many of the parts are stamped with “US”. If this was a gimmick to make the rifle more saleable as a marine rifle by some basement entrepreneur they would have put large USMC stamps on the rifle and not merely “US”. As the saying goes, “if it seems too good to be true it probably is.” At the low purchase price, even by 1961 standards, it is doubtful if anyone had this in mind. Was this one of the 100 Johnson rifles purchased by Johnson Automatics from the U.S. Marine Corps? Again, I find this doubtful. In an advertisement by Johnson Automatics in May, 1946 it states:

    “We are pleased to announce that we have been able to repurchase a very limited number of Johnson Semi-Automatic Military rifles, rotary type, Model of 1941, magazine capacity 10 shots, caliber .30-06 weight approximately 9 ½ pounds. According, we are offering these rifles to members of the National Rifle Association only as souvenirs of World War II and as Collector’s items. Each rifle will be accompanied by a Certificate outlining its background and service during World War II."

    These rifles have been reconditioned and fully test fired, but they are weapons which have seen extended service and are offered as such. Price: $250.00. At what point did Johnson stop the reconditioning process? Did they merely headspace and test fire the rifles? If that is all that they did, then `rifle A5264 would fit the bill of one of these marine rifles, “which have seen extended service” and which were sold by Johnson Automatics after the war.

    What is the meaning behind the “US” stamped on various parts of the rifle including the receiver? Why would Johnson Automatics disfigure this rifle by putting an ugly “US’ stamp all over it? Was this to differentiate the rifle from the rifles that were sold through normal channels to the NPC?

    I have looked at many Johnson rifles over the years and. none of them have the “US’ stamp on them and all of them were in excellent condition; these were NPC rifles which never experienced the mud and grime of extended use on the battlefield.

    I cannot come to a scientific conclusion as to the meaning of the “US”,I do know that it is a USMC rifle, by the data found in the Johnson files, and that until further evidence surfaces to the contrary I feel that it was brought back by a marine serving in the southwest Pacific. Back in my heyday of gun collecting in the late 1950’s and the 1960’s, the gun shows were full of veteran “bring backs” and they sold for a song….even considering what little disposable income I had back then. Hopefully a reader can bring me more details on a Johnson rifle that they may have with these same markings. Until then, I can only be content with the remark, “if only that gun could talk!”

    So what was the final score? A letter to Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Williams, USMC dated August 15,1944 Melvin Johnson that his best estimate is that 625 Johnson light machine guns and 600 Johnson M-1941rifles saw considerable combat use. Although some of the Johnson light machine guns saw service with the U.S. Army which includes the 125 used by the Special Service Forces, most of the Johnson rifles were used by the U.S. Marine Corps.

    A final footnote on the Johnson M-1941 rifle is a tribute to Melvin Johnson Jr. After reading literally thousands of letters and documents, I must say that he was a man of utmost integrity, honesty and ethics. In all of the correspondence between Melvin Johnson Jr. and government and marine officials, I never found one transgression in terms of ethics or honesty. He always championed the American soldier and was constantly trying to offer the military a better weapon than they had at the time. He was not out to “line his pockets” with easy government money during a time of crisis, but rather talked of the common soldier and of his having the best weapon that could be designed. He constantly ran into government bureaucracy and indifference even as hostilities unfolded across the world. If those in positions of power would have taken his weapon designs seriously, the marines may not have fought in the early island campaigns using the WW1 Springfield rifle and BAR’s. What a difference the M-1941 rifle and light machine gun would have made if every marine unit was equipped with them when they fought the close combat engagements of Guadalcanal and beyond. In the final analysis Melvin M. Johnson Jr. should not only be remembered for his contributions to military firearms design, but for his integrity and honesty during war- time when questionable business practices could have reaped him large profits.
    Last edited by Listy; 17 Mar 10, 19:09.

  • #2
    Its a bad idea to include Phone numbers.
    Winnie says
    "He fell out of a Gestapo car, over a bridge, and onto a railway line. Then was run over by the Berlin Express.

    It was an Accident."
    Herr Flick.


    • #3
      Any info on which USMC battalions received the Johnson LMG version? The usal story is the 1st Raider Battalion had the rifle, and the other Johnson weapons. Cremer's text indicates 625 LMG, which are more than practical for the Raider Bn. Who got the others?


      • #4

        I would look at both Raider Battalions and the Marine Paratroops. A side note would be all US Army troops on Hawaii and in the Philippines were issued Garands. The 26th Cavalry, Philippine scouts did good service with them. The father of a guy down the street was a regular in the PI and fought as a Guerilla as well. He said he liked the Garand.

        Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

        Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

        by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"


        • #5
          Clyde, we don't have the attention span to read so many pages of text online. This has nothing to do with being intellectually lazy, most of us have a large library of military books and we know where to obtain more references if we need pages and pages of info.

          "Artillery adds dignity to what would otherwise be a ugly brawl."
          --Frederick II, King of Prussia


          • #6
            IIRC, the First Special Service Force also used johnson automatic rifles


            • #7
              Originally posted by Parasocko View Post
              IIRC, the First Special Service Force also used johnson automatic rifles
              As I understand it, this rifle was a piece of trash.


              • #8

                Like all military rifles, it had its faults and its good points. The main problems I can recall had to do with the barrel not being protected as well as the Garand did. If you heard stories about jamming remember that the Garand and M-1 Carbine also could give the same problem in the same conditions.

                The militaria collectors are getting good prices for them now, so I would not mind having one. I would rather a Garand to hunt with, but both seem to be good hunting rifles.

                Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

                Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

                by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"


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