Johnson Model 1941
The Johnson Model 1941 lost out to the M1 Garand but still saw some 70,000 examples produced and used during World War 2 and beyond.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
The Johnson Model 1941 faced off against the M1 Garand rifle before the start of hostilities that became World War 2. The rifle was designed by Melvin Maynard Johnson, Jr. (1909 - 1965) in 1939, a Boston, Massachusetts native, weapons engineer, lawyer and US Marine. His patents went on to serve in such weapons as the Armalite AR-10, AR-15 and the Colt M-16. However, the M1941 lost out to the M1 Garand in whole but some 20,000 were still pressed into service from 1941 to 1945 - wartime need dictated such use. The M1941 held some advantaged over the M1 in that it offered up a higher ammunition count, less recoil and the ammunition system could be added to without the need to fire off all cartridges. The United States Marine Corps became the M1941's primary user during World War 2. After 1945, many were earmarked as surplus and sold off. Its scarcity today means it has become a firearms collector's dream to acquire the rifle.
The Johnson Model 1941 maintained a most unique appearance as the rotary magazine created a contoured bulge along the underside of the body, just ahead of the trigger group. This proved the identifying characteristic for this rifle from then on. The pistol grip was integrated as a rifle-style handle into the two-piece wooden stock while the wood design also continued just ahead of magazine area to act as a foregrip. The upper portion of the receiver was metal with the forward portion being vented to help cooling of the barrel. The thin barrel itself protruded out from the body upper body and detailed only by an integrated foresight just aft of the muzzle and an underslung forward sling fitting. An iron sight was adjustable along the upper rear of the receiver. A second sling attachment was fitted under the stock behind the main grip, forward of the butt.
The Model 1941 made use of the .30-06 Springfield or the 7x57mm Mauser cartridge, firing from a short-recoil, rotating bolt action. The short recoil firing principle called upon a combined movement of the bolt and barrel. The overall distance utilized by the firing action was less than the cartridge's overall length (opposite of the long-recoil process). While the barrel's movement eventually stopped, the bolt would continue on its way to the rear, eventually activating the ammunition feed mechanism for the successive shot. Muzzle velocity was listed at 2,840 feet per second. The feed system was made up of a detachable internal rotary magazine cylinder holding the 10 ready-fire cartridges. This could be added to at any time by way of stripper clips. Overall weight of the rifle was a manageable 9.5lbs. Overall length topped 45.5 inches with the barrel making up 22 inches of this length. The Model 1941 was designed with a removable barrel which produced a shorter overall rifle - this helpful in general storage of the weapon or in aerial jumps conducted by paratroopers where a compact weapon reigned supreme .
The short-recoil action of the M1941 eventually worked against the design. The distinct barrel action made heavy use of bayoneting actions something to be desired and such action could promote malfunctions in the gun itself. The recoil action was also known to produce "vertical shot dispersion". In general, reliability soon proved an issue with complicated M1941 once in the field when compared to the M1 Garand.
The US Army evaluated the M1941 but rejected it in favor of the M1 Garand, a rifle design receiving much more in the way of attention and financing. Nevertheless, the US Marine Corps took on deliveries of M1941 rifles that were intended for the Netherlands to be used in the Dutch East Indies. These rifles were earmarked for the region but Japanese expansion now dictated that the USMC could make better use of the rifle. The M1941 proved a modern upgrade for the USMC and fired the common .30-06 Springfield round from a then-hefty ammunition count.
Some M1941s eventually reprised their battlefield roles in the post-war world, the most notable of these actions being in the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba.