M14 Rifle History and Development By Lee Emerson Preface



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Raritan Arsenal

Some changes in the design of the M14 rifle occurred after the earliest rifles had been shipped to the Army. This included adoption of a plastic ventilated hand guard and hinged steel butt plate. The earliest production M14 rifles were inspected and reworked as needed, and modified to incorporate the latest changes. This work was being done at Raritan Arsenal in Middlesex County, NJ as of August, 1961. Raritan Arsenal was decommissioned by the Army in 1963.

Experimental Items for the USGI M14 Rifle

Picatinny Arsenal (Morris County, NJ) designed a winter trigger with safety for the M14 in 1960. Another winter trigger without a safety known as the Colley type was made in 1961. That same year, the experimental breech loading X-1 40 mm grenade launcher was built for the M14. It attached to the gas cylinder and bayonet lug. Aiming was performed using the standard M15 grenade launcher sight.

Two hundred aluminum M14 magazines were produced by Mathewson Tool Company (New Haven, CT) and tested by Springfield Armory in 1962. Springfield Armory produced some mostly plastic twenty round M14 magazines that had a small “fence” of sheet metal at the top end to which the plastic body was molded. The plastic M14 magazines were made in an attempt to save money. Springfield Armory experimented with black, brown, gray, olive drab, tan and white colored stocks in the first half of the 1960s during development of the synthetic M14 stock. Rock Island Arsenal designed and manufactured an experimental two point scope mount for the XM21 in 1970.

The U. S. Army experimented in the second half of the 1960s and the early 1970s with twenty round plastic magazines for the M16 and M14 rifles in the Expendable Magazine Project. Some disposable plastic pre-filled thirty round M14 magazines were reportedly made and tested by Rock Island Arsenal in the early 1970s as part of this project but this has not been confirmed.

Harrington & Richardson, Inc. developed and produced the Simulator, M14, .22 Caliber Mark 1 select fire rifle in 1959. Harrington & Richardson took this project on because of a conversation in March, 1959 with Dr. Frank Carten, then U. S. Army Chief of Ordnance. The purpose of the M14 Simulator rifle was to provide an economical training rifle to complement the M14. Harrington & Richardson employee, Les Mulno, had finished building the M14 Simulator by May, 1959. One of the M14 Simulator rifles was submitted to Springfield Armory in December, 1959 for evaluation purposes but the U. S. Army never tested it. Harrington & Richardson kept the other four M14 Simulator rifles until 1986 when they were auctioned off due to going out of business (see U. S. Civilian Ownership of Select Fire M14 Type Rifles).

Harrington & Richardson produced experimental promethium flip-up rear and front night sights in 1962 for the M14. Promethium is number sixty-one on the periodic table of elements. It is classified as a rare earth element and is produced from nuclear fission. It is radioactive. One isotope, promethium-147 can be made phosphorescent. Promethium-147 has a half-life of 2.64 years. It has been used in analog dial watches and in early M16A1 rifle sights. The promethium-147 was captured in ceramic microspheres and sealed with phosphor inside glass ampoules for the M16A1. No information is readily available regarding the design of these experimental M14 night sights.

Harrington & Richardson built some prototype M14 rifles in 1962 known as “Guerilla guns.” The Guerilla gun had a combination perforated conical flash suppressor and gas cylinder and a USGI M14 chromium plated barrel shortened to 19.3 ”. These modifications shortened the M14 overall length by 4.5 ”. The M14 Guerilla rifle was never adopted by the U. S. Army. At least one M14 Guerilla rifle was submitted to Springfield Armory in 1962 and subsequently transferred to the Springfield Armory Historical Museum on January 07, 1965. Springfield Armory tested this M14 Guerilla rifle for flash suppression in January, 1963. Harrington & Richardson kept a number of the M14 Guerilla rifles until auctioned off in 1986 at the close of operations (see U. S. Civilian Ownership of Select Fire M14 Type Rifles).

Sometime between 1966 and 1970, the U. S. Army Marksmanship Training Unit came up with the idea of adding a rear lug to the M14 receiver as part of their effort to improve the accuracy of the M14 rifle. A U-shaped piece of steel, known as a lug, was welded onto the receiver underneath the heel. The stock was inletted and drilled to accept the lug and screw. A hex head screw secured the lug to the stock through its underside when the rifle was assembled. The U. S. Army Weapons Command at Rock Island Arsenal did not accept this modification out of concern from the effects of welding the receiver.

The Issue M14 Rifle

After final testing at the factory each M14 rifle (NSN 1005-00-589-1271) was lubricated according to government packaging specifications. This was accomplished by completely dipping each rifle in lubricating oil since that was the most economical means. After lubrication, each M14 rifle was packed inside a cardboard box. White plastic protectors for the front sight and muzzle, rear sight, and operating rod handle were placed on the rifle prior to closing the box. A white plastic indicator placed in the chamber signified the rifle was empty. Additionally, the packing carton contained an in-the-wrap four pack of twenty round M14 magazines and a cardboard tube known as the Basic Initial Issue (BII) kit. The BII contained the following items: four M3 cleaning rod sections, cleaning rod carrying case, oiler, patch tip, bore brush, chamber brush and combination tool. There was an exception to the BII inventory. BII kits made up at Letterkenny Army Depot (PA) in 1968 included the selector switch and selector spring. When the new-in-box M14 rifles were received by the Army and Marine Corps, oil was present in the gas cylinders because of the factory lubrication. Thus, the U. S. Marine Corps issued Technical Instruction TI-02648A-15/6 to deal with the problem. This Technical Instruction references U. S. Army TM 9-1005-223-12 which requires that each M14 rifle to be field stripped, cleaned, and lubricated prior to firing. The first time the rifle is cleaned the gas cylinder, piston and gas cylinder plugs should be thoroughly cleaned and dried.

In the U. S. military, the selector shaft lock was installed on most M14 rifles so that only semi-automatic fire can be employed. However, the Table of Organization for the U. S. Marine Corps required three automatic riflemen per rifle squad when the M14 was the issue rifle. In Viet Nam, U. S. Marine Corps units such as the 1st Marine Division 1st Reconnaissance Battalion and the Combined Action Platoons (CAP) were equipped with selector switches on their M14 rifles in Viet Nam. Automatic fire was used in ambush situations and by the patrol point man when making enemy contact.

The following description serves to demonstrate the ruggedness and reliability of the M14 rifle. The M14 rifle was tested for sustained fire at Fort Benning, GA. In particular, one M14 rifle was fired continuously at a rate of sixty rounds per minute for 3080 rounds. The test ended when the chambered rounds started pre-igniting because of the hot barrel. The barrel never failed to stabilize the exiting bullets. The front end of the stock and the hand guard eventually burst into flames but the rifle continued to fire.

M14 in Service with the U. S. Army and U. S. Marine Corps

In the U. S. Army infantry squad of the early 1960s, the M14 rifle was standard issue. Each ten man infantry squad had two automatic riflemen and two grenadiers. The U. S. Marine Corps infantry rifle squad consisted of a squad leader and three four man fire teams. Each fire team had one M14 with a selector switch. In the U.S. Marine Corps of 1965, the issue combat ammunition load for each M14 rifleman was five twenty round magazines and eight twenty round magazines for each M14 automatic rifleman. At that time, the Marine rifleman carried the M14 magazines in canvas single magazine pouches on his web belt.

The M16 type rifle was introduced into service as the standard arm of the U. S. Armed Forces in the mid-1960s. Consequently, the M14 rifle was phased out among Army and Marine Corps infantry units. For example, the M14 rifle was replaced by June, 1966 in the 22nd Infantry Regiment 4th Infantry Division of the U. S. Army. Yet, U. S. Army Military Police on the streets of Saigon, Republic of Viet Nam during the November 01, 1966 National Day Parade carried M14 rifles. The M16A1 officially replaced the M14 as the Standard A rifle in the U. S. Army on February 28, 1967. However, the U. S. Army was still using the M14 rifle in combat as late as January, 1968 in the Republic of Viet Nam. Soldiers of the Army 40th Signal Battalion stationed around Phu Tai defended themselves with the M14 rifle when attacked by the Viet Cong during the Tet Offensive, which began the night of January 30-31, 1968.

The decision to replace the M14 rifle in Marine Corps units in the western Pacific was made in March, 1966. In Viet Nam, the M16 for the most part replaced the M14 in U. S. Marine infantry units during March, April and May, 1967. The Marine 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion had exchanged its M14 rifles for the M16 by November, 1967. Apparently, not all M14 rifles had been turned in by infantry units of the U. S. Marine Corps as late as 1968. U. S. Marine Corps film footage of the battle for Hue in the Republic of Viet Nam reveals Marines engaging the enemy with M14 rifles between the beginning of the Tet Offensive and the liberation of Hue four weeks later on February 26, 1968. The 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, 3rd Marine Division used M14 rifles against a North Vietnamese Army Ranger Battalion north of Dong Ha, Republic of Viet Nam in May, 1968 in a fierce five day battle. Marines assigned to Air Wing helicopter squadrons in Viet Nam still carried the M14 in 1968. American troops carried M14 rifles while constructing radio sites in the field near Hue, Republic of Viet Nam until May, 1970.

After the war in Viet Nam, the M14 remained in use for training and barracks duty. The U. S. Army issued the M14 to new recruits until December, 1969 and the U. S. Marine Corps did as well until at least December, 1971. Marine Corps Office Candidate School classes trained with the M14 as late as June, 1972. The M14 rifle was issue equipment for Marines assigned to the 32nd Street Naval Station in San Diego, California until the first half of 1978. As of August, 2002 the M14 rifle was still in use by aggressor forces at the U. S. Army Ranger School.

The U. S. Army and Marine Corps have put the M14 rifle to combat use in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq in support of the War on Terrorism. The M14 rifle offers greater range and punch than M16 variant rifles and carbines. Select members of the following units used the M14 rifle in those countries: U. S. Army 2nd Infantry Division, 10th Mountain Division, 25th Infantry Division, 82nd Airborne Division, 101st Airborne Division and Special Forces and the U. S. Marine Corps 1st Marine Division. Some 82nd Airborne soldiers in 2002 had ACOG TA01-NSN 4x32 scopes mounted to their M14 rifles while on combat patrol in Afghanistan. U. S. Army and Army National Guard soldiers in Iraq with M14 rifles have purchased and installed a variety of optics at their individual discretion. Optics from Aimpoint, EOTech, Leupold & Stevens, Inc., Schmidt and Bender, and Trjicon are in use by U. S. soldiers in Iraq. Likewise, Smith Enterprise and Springfield Armory, Inc. scope mounts have been purchased and installed on issued M14 rifles by individual soldiers.

In 2003, the U. S. Army added the M14 rifle to the weapons inventory of the Stryker brigades. The Designated Marksman (DM) for each squad is outfitted with a scoped M14 rifle. The choice of optics is the Leupold & Stevens, Inc. Mk IV scope. This gives each squad the ability to cover a larger field of fire. In February, 2004, the U. S. Army established a new school called Squad Designated Marksman School at Camp Bullis (San Antonio, TX). The U.S. Army issued orders to a group of civilian shooters to serve as the faculty for this school for a period of two weeks. Designated as Volunteer Military Instructors, these civilians were all distinguished competition shooters and members of the Texas State Rifle Association. Two groups of forty soldiers from the U. S. Army First Cavalry Division (Fort Hood, TX) were put through a one week course on operating and maintaining the M14 rifle as a Squad Designated Marksman. The Squad Designated Marksman School at Camp Bullis was such a success that it was continued in late 2004 at Fort Hood for soldiers in the 3rd Infantry Division. The M14 as a battle rifle is far from obsolescence.

The M14 in the U. S. Navy

U. S. Navy ships inventory the M14 rifle for several purposes. M14 rifles are maintained by Gunner's Mates on surface ships and Missile Technicians or Fire Control Technicians on submarines. The M14 rifle is used to shoot a line (rope for landlubbers) from one ship to another during underway replenishment, to arm the Shark Watch during swim call, to repel boarders, and to arm the security detail during loading and off loading of nuclear weapons on submarines. Navy SEAL Team 1 operating out of the Rung Sat Special Zone in the Republic of Viet Nam was equipped with the M14 rifle until November, 1967. Today, the Navy SEAL Teams equip themselves with M14 and M25 rifles when the needs of the mission dictate.

There are times when use of the M14 rifle is totally unexpected but very useful. One such instance occurred while the ballistic missile submarine USS Nathan Hale SSBN 623 was on deterrent patrol in 1985. As a Lafayette Class SSBN, the Nathan Hale was equipped with a device known as the "towed array." The towed array was a black steel box about the size of an automobile. It contained an assortment of radio and sonar equipment. The towed array was attached to a steel cable that could be reeled in or out from its compartment within the steel decking just aft of the missile tube hatches. With the towed array deployed, the submarine was limited to the speed, depth and dive angle it could do to prevent breaking the cable and losing the towed array. The benefit was that the submarine could remain submerged but continuously receive radio messages. While on deterrent patrol one day somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, the Officer of the Deck forgot that the towed array was reeled out. He ordered a bell (order to change speed) too fast for the steel cable attached to the towed array. The towed array detached from the boat (submariner term for submarine) and was quickly floating on the ocean surface. Considering the tactical situation and the sensitive nature of the equipment lost, the Captain ordered the boat to surface. After the ship had ventilated, the Captain and a Missile Technician Second Class armed with a M14 rifle laid (hurried quickly) to the bridge. The Captain ordered the Missile Technician to sink the towed array. After cycling 134 times, the M14 rifle had put enough holes in the towed array casing to make it sink to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The boat quickly dove (submariner term for submerged) immediately thereafter and carried on its deterrent patrol without further incident.

The M14 in Other Service

The M14 rifle remains in use today with U. S. Air Force pararescue jumpers, at West Point Military and Annapolis Naval Academies, Virginia Military Institute, and university ROTC and high school JROTC units nationwide. M14 rifles in the inventory of JROTC units have been demilitarized. The barrels are plugged and welded to the receiver, the firing pins removed and the bolt firing pin front hole welded over. As an aside, Brookfield Precision Tool rebuilt a batch of M14 rifles at Fort Devens, MA for the U. S. Air Force within days prior to the start of Desert Storm.

The M14 rifle is frequently used as a ceremonial rifle by drill teams and color guards and at Arlington National Cemetery. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery is guarded around the clock by U. S. Army soldiers in Company E of The Old Guard. The Tomb Guard uses M14 rifles. Some federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in the United States also have them in inventory on loan from the U. S. Army through the Section 1033 program. The Section 1033 program is administered by the Department of Defense Law Enforcement Support Office. The Law Enforcement Support Office is tasked by the Defense Logistics Agency to transfer excess DOD equipment to law enforcement agencies. The Section 1033 program was previously known as the Section 1208 program.

While not related to military service or law enforcement the M14 type rifle has been used dramatically in entertainment industry television shows and films over the years. The M14 rifle made its entertainment debut on the NBC broadcast television drama series The Lieutenant starring Gary Lockwood and Robert Vaughn. The series depicted a U. S. Marine infantry unit stationed at Camp Pendelton, CA. The series received strong support from the U. S. Marine Corps. There were twenty-nine hour long episodes which aired during the 1963-64 season. The M14 was next featured on the hit CBS broadcast television situation comedy Gomer Pyle, USMC starring Jim Nabors and Frank Sutton. It aired from September 25, 1964 to September 19, 1969. The M14 type rifle is also seen in scenes of fictional 1960s Viet Nam combat on the NBC broadcast television drama American Dreams. This series began September 29, 2002 and was entering its third season in the fall of 2004. The M14 type rifle has also been featured more than once on the History Channel cable television weekly program Mail Call hosted by former U. S. Marine, Viet Nam veteran, actor and M14 fan R. Lee Ermey. Mail Call began its third season on July 06, 2004.

A list of big screen films with the M14 type rifle includes The Green Berets (1968), Black Sunday (1977), Crocodile Dundee 2 (1986), Raw Deal (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Gardens of Stone (1987), the director's cut edition of Lethal Weapon (1987), Distant Thunder (1988), The Siege of Firebase Gloria (1988), Born On The Fourth Of July (1989), Hot Shots Part Deux (1993), Forrest Gump (1994), On Deadly Ground (1994), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Congo (1995), Star Hunter (1995), Mars Attacks! (1996), The Postman (1997), Rogue Force (1998), The General’s Daughter (1999), Black Hawk Down (2001), Tears Of The Sun (2003) and The Rundown (2003).

Springfield Armory Historical Museum

A number of Springfield Armory and Harrington & Richardson M14 rifles were transferred to the Springfield Armory Historical Museum (Springfield, MA). For the most part, these transfers occurred between September 14, 1959 and May 9, 1967. M14 rifle receiver serial number 2085 was transferred to the Museum on January 22, 1986 from Rock Island Arsenal. Some of the M14 rifles at the Springfield Armory Museum were transferred back to the Army (Rock Island Arsenal, Watervliet Arsenal, and Fort Lee) between April 26, 1966 and May 18, 1972. The Museum is operated by the U. S. Department of Interior National Park Service. The Museum has the following M14 rifles amongst its inventory:

Serial Number Comment

D.D.E. 1 One of two presentation M14 rifles made for President Eisenhower

X-45 Harrington & Richardson M14 Guerrilla Rifle

2000 First production M14 off the manufacturing line

10117 M14E2 rifle

106436 M14 rifle with the experimental X-1 40 mm grenade launcher

539712 M14E1 Type V rifle

545480 M14 rifle used as an endurance test piece for 30,000 rounds

Israel Defense Forces

The Israel Defense Forces used the M14 as a sniper weapon system from 1973 to 1997 when it was replaced by M24 SWS. Israeli Military Industries built 10,000 sniper rifles out of the 35,000 rifles given to them by the United States as a result of the Yom Kippur War. The remaining M14 rifles were disassembled for spare parts. The Israeli Defense Forces used M14 sniper rifles for fire support during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Optics on the Israeli M14 rifles was either the El-Op Nimrod 6X40 mm daylight scope or the Litton AN/PVS-2 night scope. In 1994, the El-Op Nimrod day scope was replaced with the Svarowski Futonic 6X42 mm scope. The M14 is still in use by the IDF Reserve. Sardius produced fifty M36 bullpup rifles from M14 rifles. These were purchased by the IDF from Sardius in the late 1980s. In the early 1990s, some M14 rifles were converted to bullpup M89 rifles by TCI in Israel (see M36 and M89). The M89 rifle has been used by Israeli Special Forces and exported for sale to other Special Forces units.

Other Foreign Hostile Action

The Argentine Army used M14 rifles in the Falklands War with the United Kingdom. Soldiers of C Company, Regimento (Especial) de Infanteria 25 made very effective use of M14 NM rifles equipped with AN/PVS-2 night optics against British forces in the battles for San Carlos and Goose Green in May, 1982. The Colombian Army has used the M14 and M14K rifles in action against drug traffickers known as FARC. The Philippine Army, Marines, CAFGU (regional militia) and the rebel New Peoples Army have used American and Chinese M14 rifles against each other. M14 rifles were turned in by rebels to the government of Honduras at La Ceiba during the summer of 2003. M14 rifles were in use by both Haitian government forces and insurgents during the February, 2004 uprising. In November, 2004 at least one M14 rifle was in the hands of the rebel Sudanese Liberation Army.



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