The Guns of WWII and Operation Overlord
Just recently, on June 6th, 2017 the 73rd anniversary of Operation Overlord, otherwise known as the Battles of Normandy and Brittany took place. These two battles, along with D-Day about a month earlier, were incredibly important in shifting the momentum of the war in the European Theater. These battles raged from June until August of 1944. Normandy and Brittany were catalyst battles that started Germany on their retreat South towards France.
The sheer magnitude of Operation Overlord is hard to fathom. Over the course of three months, the Allies landed more than a million troops in the area. There were many US, British, and Canadian units that fought in these key battles, but one US division that played an integral role were the men of the 101st Airborn. These paratroopers inserted in the dark of night and gave the Allies a distinct tactical advantage.
I thought in remembrance of the incredible bravery of the men who served in WWII, I would look at a couple of the firearms these warriors used to defeat the Germans, and their significance to the US Military.
The 1911A1 Government Model:
Nearly everyone can recognize the iconic 1911 semi-automatic pistol, created by John Browning and officially adopted by the US Military in March of 1911. It marked a revolutionary advancement in pistol design. The 1911, like any piece of gear that has lasted over time, has gone through modifications, but the pistol issued to troops during WWII was very similar to the original design.
It kept the major frame design, angles, and of course the .45 cartridge, but had some modifications. Some of these modifications included an extended grip safety and a better trigger. This version of the pistol was designated as the 1911A1 Government Model and was produced in the classic dull, grayish-black parkerized finish with brown, checkered grip panels.
During WWII companies like Colt, Remington Rand and Ithaca all had contracts to produce these Government Model 1911's. During WWII the country rallied behind the war effort and the fight to stop the Axis powers. Nearly every American helped out in some way.
Many companies halted production of their principle goods, to produce gear for the war effort. Singer, the company that is known for producing sewing machines, and Switch and Signal, a company that produced railroad equipment, both stepped in to help make the Government Model 1911's for the US during the war.
The 1911A1, and its .45ACP ball round, was a great sidearm for troops throughout all theaters of combat. Its simplicity of design, and ability to change out parts, made it an ideal firearm for the military. As mentioned, its design has been tweaked over the years, however, design components like grip angle and operation have remained surprisingly intact.
These are some of the reasons the 1911 was still the primary sidearm of the US Military until the 1980's when it was replaced by the Beretta M9. Even today the 1911 has a cult following, and many owners refuse to own or rely on any other handgun design.
It is estimated that nearly 3 million 1911's were produced for the US Military during its service life. The incredible durability and lasting popularity of the 1911 is a testament to its success during military use.
The 1911A1 Government Model pictured and in the video is a fully functional, exact reproduction of those issued to troops during WWII. It is produced by Inland Manufacturing which has its own special historical tie to WWII and firearms production.
Inland Manufacturing LLC
An Inland Mfg. Overview:
Inland is a firearms production company located in my home state of Ohio. In fact, located in Dayton, Ohio, the company is only a quick 2-hour drive from my home, and their history and involvement in the war effort are incredibly interesting. Inland Mfg. did not start out as a firearms manufacturing company, instead, the company was a division of General Motors.
Inland Mfg. and the War Effort:
Like many other American companies leading up to and during the war, Inland began producing equipment for our troops. In 1941 Inland was making the bulk of the tooling used by other companies to produce the historic M1 Carbine. By 1942 Inland was a chief producer of the gun along with anti-aircraft gun sights, tank and airplane components.
As the war raged, Inland continued to churn out the M1 Carbine and its variants. By 1945 Inland produced two and a half million M1 Carbines for the war or about 40% of all M1's produced!
After the War, like so many other companies, they returned to their principle role. For Inland, this meant producing components for General Motors. In 1989, they were officially absorbed into General Motors and then eventually reborn as Inland Manufacturing, LLC in 2013 and returned to their roots. The company currently produces precise reproductions of the historic M1 Carbine in a few different models.
Along with the M1, they produce a reproduction 1911A1 Government Model and an Inland model ‘Custom Carry' 1911 pistol. While they did not produce any 1911's for the war, their 1911's are historically accurate, and well made.
The M1 Paratrooper Carbine:
The M1 is a legendary firearm and holds an iconic place to those men of WWII. The M1 Paratrooper Carbine was developed specifically as a light-weight firearm that Airborn troops, forward observers, radio operators and crew-served weapons teams could carry. Because of its folding stock, the firearm could easily be slung or carried in a pouch and not add extra weight to troops already loaded down with cumbersome and heavy gear. It is chambered for a .30 caliber carbine round and while it often confused with the M1 Garand, among many other differences, the M1 Carbine used a 15 round box magazine instead of a clip for loading. Eventually, the famed 30 round ‘banana clip' was introduced for the M1 Carbine.
The Carbine was intended for close combat use. While its max range was 300 yards, the firearm was reliable and accurate for its intended purpose. Being used in all theaters of the war, it showed it versatility and dependability time and again. The M1 was such a stalwart, that it remained in service until the 1960's. Undergoing a few modifications, the M1 Carbine saw use in the Korean War, and even in Vietnam, before ultimately being replaced by the M-16.
Handling These Firearms Today:
There are millions of 1911 owners who love their tried and true design of the 1911. And while the current 1911's look a little different than the Government Models issued to troops of WWII, the gun remains surprisingly unchanged in it's operation. In fact, I own a 1911 and appreciate its historical value to gun manufacturing, but never really thought about its use in combat like WWII before doing the research for this article. Getting my hands on a reproduction model, gave me a new appreciation not only for the firearm but how the troops battled in WWII.
Shooting the M1 Paratrooper Carbine was a first for me. I found the carbine to load and chamber smoothly. The sound of the bolt moving forward and chambering the carbine round was something I imagined being a welcome and comforting sound to troops of WWII.
The gun used the familiar and easy to use flip up peep sights and adjustable front post. I found the gun extremely easy to sight in and surprisingly accurate out of the box. The performance was terrific, and I did not encounter any malfunctions with the gun. Even with the folding, wire stock, recoil was nearly non-existent and ergonomically the gun felt perfect as I got my stock weld and rested the butt in my shoulder.
This was the first M1 I was able to fire, however it wasn't my first experience with the firearm. I had a unique opportunity one night back when I was a police officer and was dispatched to an older man's home to take a report. His home had been burglarized and several items were stolen. The man was not really concerned about a lot of the stolen items, as he said they could be replaced.
As is Marine protocol he gave me a quick period of instruction on the weapon because of my ignorance to it. I got it in my hands and could feel all the fear, uncertainty, confidence, hunger, and exhaustion that the man experienced during combat in WWII.
It was a powerful connection and being a combat vet myself, I understood.
The decades that passed between us … two bonded Marine fighters who had different names and used different gear but shared the same warrior soul remains an experience I'll never forget. I understood his bond to his firearm, because I've felt it, too. The connection to the piece of gear that you entrust your life to. The same trust that everyone to your right and left must have in order to bravely move forward against insurmountable odds and adversity.
While doing the review and holding the reproduction M1 Paratrooper Carbine, I was reminded of that feeling I had while taking that burglary report. It reminded me how important this collection of metal and wood were to our country, to freedom, and to the entire globe.
Would the Allies have lost the war without the M1 Carbine? I don't think so, I truly believe the American troops of WWII would have won if only armed with slingshots. But the fact is, the M1 Carbine, did give the American troops a piece of gear that they could be confident in and a firearm that even 60 years later, an old crusty Marine could hold and thank for shooting true to the target.