Sweetwater County Museum Researches Rare Marine Rifle

Sweetwater County Museum Researches Rare Marine Rifle

Though nearly identical in overall size and weight, the Model 1941 Johnson (top) and M-1 Garand (bottom) rifles were otherwise very different

SWEETWATER COUNTY — A unique rifle briefly used by the United States Marine Corps is being researched by the Sweetwater County Historical Museum in Green River.

Though the U.S. Army’s standard issue rifle from 1936 to 1957 was the legendary M-1 Garand – ultimately, nearly 5½ million would be manufactured – another semi-automatic long gun saw limited use by the Marines in World War II – the Model 1941 Johnson.

Like the Garand, the Johnson was chambered for the .30/06 cartridge, but there the similarities ended. The Johnson was recoil-operated, (the Garand was gas-operated), and featured a fixed, 10-round rotary magazine that could be loaded with individual cartridges or charged with five-round strip clips.

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While the Canadian-born John Garand of the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts was advancing the design of his own rifle in the mid-1930s, Melvin Johnson, an attorney and Marine reserve officer, was critical of Garand’s creation and determined to develop one of his own. He completed the first working model of what would become the M1941 in 1936.

Though Johnson pressed hard for his rifle’s adoption by the military, the Army turned it down in favor of the M-1, the rifle it already had. The armed forces of the Netherlands were impressed by it, however, and in 1941 a large order was placed by the Dutch government in exile for the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army for issue to its colonial troops in the Dutch East Indies. In the event, less than 2,000 were shipped before the Japanese invasion in early December, 1941.

The Johnson also caught the attention of elements within the USMC. An estimated 750 of the Dutch rifles found their way into Marine hands – particularly parachute units – and saw considerable fighting in the Pacific. Though it was very accurate and generated less recoil than the M-1, overall reaction to the Johnson among the Marines was mixed, not least because field stripping it involved a number of internal parts that were small and easily lost.

Today, M1941 Johnsons are scarce and command top dollar, often bringing between $10,000 and $20,000.

Those with a vintage firearm (or firearms) who would like to learn more about them are encouraged to contact the museum at (307) 872-6435 or via email at blustd@sweetwatercountywy.gov. There is no charge for the service.