By Frank Iannamico
A U.S. Army requirement for a lightweight select-fire infantry rifle was initially established during World War II. After years of development and testing, the US Rifle, 7.62mm, M14 was finally adopted as the “Standard A” rifle of the United States on May 1, 1957. However, due to peacetime budget cut backs, no substantial deliveries of the M14 rifles were made until September of 1959.
The M14 was basically a product improved caliber .30 M1 Garand rifle, which had served admirably during World War II, and later in the Korean War. The M1 rifle was immensely popular with the soldiers that carried it (except for complaints of its 10.5 pound loaded weight).
Although the M14 was also popular with many soldiers and Marines, it had a very short service life as the primary infantry rifle of the United States. After years of development, the 8.7 pound (unloaded) 7.62mm M14 was eventually conceived by the government’s Springfield Armory to fulfill the army’s requirement for a lightweight, select-fire weapon. The problem was not so much with the weapon itself, but with the powerful 7.62mm NATO cartridge that it fired. The 7.62x51mm cartridge was simply too powerful for a shoulder-fired infantry weapon to allow effective automatic fire. Most M14 rifles were issued with selector locks in place, preventing troops from firing the weapons in the full-automatic mode. Eventually the M14 was phased out in favor of the then controversial 5.56mm M16 and M16A1 rifles beginning in 1966. The M14 still remained in the U.S. inventory as the “Standard B” rifle. There were 1,380,358 M14 rifles manufactured from 1959 to 1963.
The U.S. 7.62mm M14 rifle was manufactured by four concerns; the government Springfield Armory, and the commercial firms of; Harrington and Richardson, Winchester and Thompson Ramo Wooldridge (TRW). The Winchester Company had manufactured the similar M1 Rifle during World War II. Harrington and Richardson also had experience manufacturing the M1 Garand rifle from 1952 through 1956. The Springfield Armory developed and manufactured the M1 rifle from 1936 to 1957.
Many of those who were issued and carried M14 rifles into harm’s way grew quite fond of the powerful, accurate weapon, and ever since leaving the military many have had a desire to obtain an example for their collections or shooting. The M14 was also growing quite popular as a match rifle. The problem was that despite the widespread interest, there were no surplus M14s available to civilians. Previous service rifles like the M1903, M1 Garand and even the carbine were available through the DCM, now known as the Civilian Marksmanship Program or CMP. Additionally, part of the problem was the M14 rifle’s BATF status as a “machine gun.” Even though an M14 could quite easily be permanently rendered to a semiautomatic-only rifle, the BATF says “once a machine gun, always a machine gun.”
The M1A Rifle
A fellow from Texas named Elmer Ballance recognized the potential market for a civilian version of the U.S. M14 rifle. The result of Mr. Ballance’s efforts was a semiautomatic-only clone of the U.S. M14 rifle. The new M14 copy was designated as the M1A and first offered for sale in the fall of 1971. The first M1A rifles were assembled in Devine, Texas under the name L.H. Gun Company, using surplus GI M14 parts assembled on a new investment cast receiver made in Pennsylvania. The receivers were marked Springfield Armory similar to the M14s made at the government armory of the same name. The BATF disallowed the receivers of the new rifles to be marked with an “M14” designation. The BATF apparently did not want the new rifles to be confused with fully automatic capable GI M14s. Mr. Ballance sold his company and name to new owners in 1974 who moved the operation to Geneseo, Illinois. The M1A still remains in production today by Springfield Armory Inc. The M1A has been produced in quite large numbers over a period of three decades and remains popular today.
The commercially produced M1A filled the gap for a semiautomatic-only M14 type rifle, but there were still a few collectors and shooters, that despite the shoulder bruising recoil and difficult to control muzzle climb, wanted a REAL select-fire M14. This need was partially filled by a small number of M1A rifles manufactured as select-fire guns and a few others that were converted to select-fire prior to May 1986. There were also a few commercial Smith M14 rifles produced in the select-fire configuration. More recently there have been quite a few companies producing M14 type rifles, but most began after the May 1986 date that ended any new manufacture of machine guns or conversions of semiautomatics.
Welded M14 Receivers
Adding to the small amount of transferable Springfield M1A and Smith M14 rifles, were the M14 rifles assembled with demilled receiver pieces that were welded back together. These receivers were “manufactured” by Class II licensees using original GI receivers that had been torch-cut to meet BATF requirements. The manufacturer would reconstruct a receiver by carefully fitting receiver remnants together and welding them back into one piece. The receivers came from government M14 rifles that were declared surplus and unceremoniously destroyed by the government. Many of the rifles scrapped were still in new un-issued condition! There were several individuals and companies performing the welding and BATF registration of the M14 receivers prior to May 1986.
Many purist collectors often turn up their noses at welded receivers, citing the metallurgical complications involved. There are a fair number of M14 rifles assembled with welded receivers that have been faithfully serving their owners for many years with no complaints or failures. A close inspection by an experienced eye can almost always detect an M14 receiver that has been welded together, but a few welded receivers that have been observed have been VERY well done. When in doubt as to if an M14 rifle has a welded receiver check the BATF registration form; it should list a manufacturer or re-manufacturer other than the original prime contractor.
Original US GI M14 Rifles
Finding an original (transferable) U.S. GI M14 rifle with a receiver that has not been cut and welded back together can be a daunting task. There were many demilled receivers that were welded together and registered prior to May 1986, but only a handful of original intact examples of the rifle were available to be registered prior to 1986. A few M14 rifles were registered during the brief 1968 government amnesty program, the rest came years later from unlikely sources.
There were a number of transferable, original GI M14s that were released by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) a few years ago. The actual number is unknown, but it is estimated that there were approximately thirty to thirty-five rifles. The rifles were a mix of the four original manufacturers. Some were fitted with a selector switch while others had the selector lock installed. Many of the DOE M14s had gone through Ordnance rebuild programs and most of these rifles had a two-digit DOE inventory number etched on the side of their receivers.
Harrington & Richardson “Museum” Rifles.
The Harrington & Richardson Company was based in Worchester, Massachusetts and had been a long-time manufacturer of commercial sporting arms, as well as having had several contracts to produce military small arms for the U.S. Government. The first large government contract was the for Reising submachine guns during World War II. In addition to military sales, the various Reising models were sold to domestic and foreign law enforcement agencies. During the Korean War in the 1950s, H&R was awarded government contracts to produce the famous M1 Garand semiautomatic service rifle. During the mid-1950s when the U.S. was conducting trials for a new infantry rifle, Harrington and Richardson was awarded a contract to fabricate 500 Belgium 7.62mm T48 (FN FAL) rifles to participate in the testing against the Springfield Armory T44 rifles (the T44E4 weapon was adopted as the M14).
From 1959 to 1963, the Harrington and Richardson Company was awarded five separate contracts producing a total of 537,582 M14 rifles, 39 percent of the total M14 production, and more than any of the other individual three contractors involved in the program. Harrington and Richardson also had produced a number of M16A1 rifles during the Vietnam War.
Possibly the best known, albeit small lot, of M14s, were the few that were registered by the Harrington and Richardson factory just prior to their going out of business in 1986. These are commonly known to collectors as the M14 “museum guns,” but most were actually contract overruns or additional rifles that the company made. The H&R Company was interested in marketing the M14 rifle worldwide to military and law enforcement agencies. The company made a few M14 based prototype models like the compact Guerilla gun and a .22 caliber M14 training rifle.
Many of the Harrington & Richardson M14 rifles sold at the company’s bankruptcy auction were still brand new and unfired. Many of the stocks on the rifles were not stamped with the circled letter P indicating that they were proof fired. A compilation of serial numbers that I have documented over the years show that the rifles came from several different contract runs. When the company went out of business in 1986, there were a number of weapons that were disposed of. That lot included a number of Reising submachine guns and parts, eight to twelve of H&R manufactured M14s, at least one M14 Guerilla Gun prototype and a small lot of new M16A1 rifles. Fortunately most of the NFA firearms sold had been registered by H&R in March of 1986, just two months prior to the cut off of NFA registrations.
Most, if not all, of the M14 rifles from the Harrington & Richardson auction were purchased by former Class III dealer R. J. Perry and Associates, who eventually sold all of the rifles to collectors or other dealers. Unfortunately Mr. Perry has since passed away so many details of the H&R M14 transactions are still unknown.
I have been attempting to have original GI M14 rifles added to the BATF’s Curio and Relics list, based on the fact that there are so few examples that are transferable. I am also attempting to document the 1986 sale of the H&R M14s as well as compile all the serial numbers of the guns involved. If you have ANY information on the subject please contact me by letter in care of Small Arms Review magazine. In addition, there have been two different figures reported as the total M14 production; one total of 1,380,358 as quoted in this article and 1,380,346 – a discrepancy of twelve rifles. Could these rifles be those that remained at the Harrington and Richardson factory and were sold at auction? Hopefully someone out there has the answers.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V8N9 (June 2005)|