Arsenal| HistoryNet

Arsenal | The M14 Rifle

By Carl O. Schuster
April 2018 • Vietnam Magazine

In April 1958, the government-owned Springfield Armory in Massachusetts initiated production of the M14 rifle. The product of nearly 15 years of research and development, the new weapon could switch between semi-automatic and fully automatic modes to increase firepower. But production started slowly, and early operational experience identified problems.

The primary complaints were fragile receivers, malformed bolts, poor accuracy and instability during automatic fire. All of those problems but the last were fixed by better quality control, and the stability issue was addressed by limiting 90 percent of the rifles to semi-automatic mode. There were efforts to manufacture an M14 version that would serve as a rifle squad’s automatic weapon, including the specially designed M14A1, but they either failed or proved disappointing.

The M14’s gas-operating firing system was based on that of the M1. Also like the M1, the M14 stored a cleaning kit in the butt-trap. The rifle had a front blade sight and peep sight, the latter adjustable for windage and range in 100-meter increments out to 1,000 meters. The M14 could be used with an M6 bayonet and M76 rifle grenade launcher attachment. An M2 bipod could be installed on the ones with the automatic-fire mode.

The M14 was the standard infantry rifle for all Army and Marine units that deployed to Vietnam in 1965, but Defense Secretary Robert McNamara ended procurement in 1964, selecting the M16 as a replacement. By 1970, only a handful of M14s remained in Vietnam.

Flawed and designed for a war with the Soviet Union in Europe that never came, the M14 with its large 7.62 mm round was America’s last full-power, or “battle rifle,” before the age of “assault rifles,” such as the American M16 and Soviet AK-47. The M14 served as the standard infantry rifle for only seven years. However, variants with improved accuracy entered service in the 1990s, and the rifle’s long-range striking power has made it the weapon of choice for many units in Afghanistan, where combat engagement ranges often exceed 300 meters and require rounds that can penetrate building walls—jobs not as well performed by the shorter-range, smaller-round (5.56 mm) M16 family. 

Rounds: 7.62-by- 51 mm ball, armor-piercing and tracer

Magazine: 20 rounds

Weight: 10.7 pounds loaded; 12 pounds with bipod

Overall length: 44.3 inches Barrel length: 22 inches

Maximum rate of fire: 750 rounds per minute

Effective rate (in combat): 60 rpm automatic; 40 rpm semi-automatic

Muzzle velocity: 850 meters (2,801 feet) per second

Maximum effective range: 460 meters (500 yards)

8 Responses to Arsenal | The M14 Rifle

  1. GarthDial says:

    1. The M14 did not use the M2 bayonet, but rather the M6 bayonet.

    2. The M14’s operating system may look similar to the M1’s, but it had a completely different and much more refined gas system. The M1 was a great rifle and the M14 was even better.

    3. We should have never been in Vietnam. That problem should have been the responsibility of the French.

    4. McNamera was an idiot. Remember, he was on the crew at Ford who gave us the Edsel and other wonders.

    5. We have found out in “The Sandbox” that the M16 platform and it’s cartridge are nowhere near perfect; that something a lot heavier hitting is required outside the confines of the jungle. No matter how they mess around with different cartridges that they can shoehorn into the M16 platform, nothing will ever make the grade.

    6. Whenever the M14 is pulled out of mothballs and put back into service, they perform admirably and they fire the same ammo as the medium machineguns and the basic sniper rifles. It’s about time for us to wake up and put a semi-automatic model back into production for our Soldiers and Marines.

    • Lt. Greyman, NVA says:

      Garth, I want to buy you a drink. Your post is perfect. The only thing I would add is that the synthetic stock helped get rid of the accuracy problems as well. The last “Lock, Stock, and Barrel” American rifle is simply the best.

    • Chuck Springston says:

      You are correct. The source I used for that sentence was in error. In retrospect, I should have checked my books on bayonets and combat knives. As always, our readers help us get things right. Thanks for the catch.
      Very respectfully,
      Carl O. Schuster
      CAPT USN (Ret)

      Note: The text has been changed to say M6

    • Douglas Self says:

      A semi-auto only M14 would be a modernized M1 Garand, not that a Marine or Soldier would do bad to have one!

      I could see the weapon redesigned with lightweight plastic furniture and the select-fire capability limited to the three-round “burst” mode as with the standard M4 carbine. IMO, the “burst” mode would lessen the recoil that was experienced with the full-auto M14 and cut down on waste of ammo. Otherwise, in order to have a 7.62mm cartridge for superior hitting power to the NATO 5.56mm, it’d be necessary to design both an intermediate cartridge, similar to the Soviet/Russian 7.62 x 39mm or the German 7.92 x 33 mm “Kurz”, and a rifle to use it. Although such a modernized M14 wouldn’t necessary be purposely employed as a sniper rifle, it’d have the range and accuracy for the rifleman to engage targets greater than the typical firefight range of 200-300 meters.

      Of course, a modernized M14 limited to single-shot and “burst” mode wouldn’t please THIS guy…

    • Douglas Self says:

      Although SOME criticism of McNamara is well-deserved, especially his debacles concerning the PREMATURE deployment of the M-16 (it’d hadn’t been fully tested in jungle conditions, was issued in haste to the troops w/o cleaning kits, and, incredibly, they were told that it didn’t NEED cleaning in the field) and the F-111 (a thread all of itself, an aircraft that was touted as would “do it all” and in fact performed none of its intended roles adequately at all; the Air Force would go back to the drawing board with it, and, once the bugs in its terrain-following radar were worked out, it became a decent strike aircraft), he had MANY success in his military and business careers that calling RMN an “idiot” is not only undeserved but way off target.
      During his AAF service under Curtis LeMay, McNamara oversaw the deployment of B-29s, including their dual use as cargo aircraft in the days when few planes could fly over the Himalayas with any substantial load, and the construction of the Tinian island airfield. When Henry Ford II hired him as one of Ford’s ten “Whiz Kids”, it was he that oversaw the streamlining of the Ford product lines and huge cost cutting measures. To put it how badly the “old man”, the original Henry Ford, was running the company in his dotage, Ford was losing millions per month in WORLD WAR II, when almost anyone who put up a shop (even Preston Tucker, imaginative engineer but as it was proven in the case of the Tucker, no manager of a manufacturing concern) made it “hand over fist”. It was McNamara’s efforts that got Ford back into the “black” by 1948. As for the Edsel…though the car itself wasn’t badly engineered, employing quite some innovations, the notion that Ford needed an additional car line to compete with Buick and Oldsmobile and DeSoto was entirely wrong, and McNamara saw that, and was responsible to kill the separate body line and basically render it a re-skinned and trimmed Ford, and see to it that it died out (as would DeSoto in 1961). He did also get the Falcon introduced, which gave Ford a solid line of basic compacts to compete with Volkswagen, the Chevy Corvair (itself another thread), and the Plymouth Valiant, and was the platform for the Ranchero! Where McNamara got unfairly smeared with the blame for the commercial debacle that was the Edsel was in 1964, when Barry Goldwater blamed him for it; even after a recently-retired Ford executive who was a big contributor to Goldwater’s campaign wrote him that McNamara had nothing to do with the Edsel’s conception, development, or marketing, and in fact had opposed it all along.

      McNamara was responsible for more or less getting Gen. Curtis “Bombs Away” LeMay out of making strategic policy decisions; LeMay believed that a nuclear conflict could only be fought one way: massive, full-scale commitment in an all-out counterforce and countervalue strike against the Soviet Union and its allies. Since he’d worked under LeMay during WWII, the then-new SecDef believed that the General had the “bomb ’em back to the Stone Age” mentality which worked against the Japanese, who had no realistic means to strike back at the USA, but was dangerous and maniacal in the Nuclear Age. This is well-lampooned in “Dr. Strangelove” (1964), wherein George C. Scott’s Gen. “Buck” Turgidson provides an excellent expy of LeMay. McNamara argued for revision to the recently devised SIOP that would allow for a “limited” counterforce strike but yet allow both sides to limit civilian casualties and damage to respective non-military assets. Although the SecDef would reverse himself on this doctrine, believing that a “use ’em or lose ’em” mentality would impel either side to commit its remaining nuclear assets, this idea later found significant favor in the Reagan years and was responsible for the development of the Pershing II missile system. As for even the F-111 debacle, with much of its problems owing to the aircraft manufacture being awarded to General Dynamics to be made at Ft. Worth, TX, as a political payoff by LBJ to his Texas supporters, though the aircraft itself never fulfilled its envisioned roles, its multiple roles became a staple of US aircraft design, leading to the F/A-18 Hornet and the F-15E “Strike” Eagle, for example. Of course, with the multi-role mania taking the F-35 Lighting II to what I envision will be an expensive and disastrous result, there are LIMITS. The trouble with any “visionary” is that not all of his “wild-assed” ideas see immediate and SUCCESSFUL fruition. Then again, why not similarly lambaste Jack Northrup because his B-49 “Flying Wing” proved too unstable as a strategic bomber, though it was certainly innovative AND ended up being built as the B-2 “Spirit” (identical wing spans a coincidence? I think not…) once avionics made such an aircraft feasible.

    • Dylan Casa del Lobos says:

      The French in Vietnam surrendered to the Japanese when France fell to the Nazis. Japan saw the colonial system was running well under the French and let it continue. Ho Chi Minh thought he was on the Allied side, since he continued a guerrilla war against the Japanese in Vietnam. Like the Polish pilots, soldiers, and sailors who fought on the winning side, but still ended up losing their country. Truman made the situation worse by giving France surplus munitions so that they could reestablish and preserve their colonial power in Vietnam against Ho Chi Minh. Truman and many others saw colonialism as a method to stop the spread of Communism. Of course the French made fortunes with their colonial rule in Vietnam. The tactical errors and utter stupidity of Dien Bien Phu ended the French dreams of colonialism, but America had already committed to stopping Communism. It’s true we had already invested millions in munitions to stop Ho, was that a consideration? Is Colonialism preferable to Communism? These are questions I think about as a Historical fiction author. I loved the M14 and wish I had one now.

  2. SW Richmond says:

    “maximum effective range 500 meters”

    Um, well, perhaps a bit further than that, though I will concede that M118LR and the like is absolute crap.

  3. Gassius Maximus says:

    I think the design of the M14 is one of the most beautiful aesthetically speaking. It is a beauty.

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