Best Guns Ever Used by the US Military: Since the American Revolution, there have been many fine truly “American” firearms – from the Kentucky Long Gun to the Colt Single Action Army to the Barrett M82 anti-material rifle. While there have been a few misses along the way, some of the best firearms have been developed in the land of the free and the home of the brave. These are the best of the best.
Best Guns Ever Used by the US Military: Colt 1911
When it comes to “beloved” American sidearms – as well as the most widely used American military firearm of the 20th century – nothing comes close to the Colt Model 1911, which was designed by the legendary John Browning. It is the best-known of his designs to utilize the short recoil principle he perfected. It was vastly superior to the U.S. military’s then-standard Colt M1892 revolver, which had shown to lack the necessary stopping power when it was employed during the U.S.-Philippine War.
More than two million of the .45 ACP pistols were produced for the U.S. military, and it was carried throughout the First and Second World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam. Today, many Special Forces operators still have opted to carry the 1911 over the M9 or M17 handguns. It is simply a time-tested classic.
Best Guns Ever Used by the US Military: M1919 Browning Machine Gun
It shouldn’t be a surprise that American gun designer John M. Browning is on the list twice. He developed the excellent water-cooled M1917 .30 caliber heavy machine gun, improving on the Maxim and Vickers machine gun designs that were used during the First World War. Then he improved upon his own design with the M1919 Browning, the first truly successful air-cooled medium machine gun.
While the recoil-operated, belt-fed machine gun had a fairly slow rate of fire, ranging from 400-600 rounds per minute, it had an effective range of 1,400 meters. It was accurate, reliable and versatile, and was easily adapted for use by infantry, and could also be mounted on Jeeps, tanks, aircraft and even landing craft. While the development of general-purpose machine guns in the Cold War relegated the M1919 to a secondary role, even 100 years later the .30 caliber weapon is still very much in use today. It was also “supersized” as the M2 .50 caliber Browning machine gun, which shows no signs of being retired anytime soon.
Best Guns Ever Used by the US Military: Thompson M1A1
Known as the “Chicago Typewriter,” “Tommy Gun,” and plenty of other colorful monikers, the Thompson submachine gun was developed during the First World War, but arrived too late to see any action in the conflict. The original version was introduced in 1921 and it was an immediate failure, as the U.S. military wasn’t interested in such a weapon. Without a war, its makers at Auto-Ordnance found a customer with the Post Office, where it was employed with the officers who guarded the U.S. mail on trains in the 1920s and early 1930s. It was also marketed to civilians, notably ranchers, as a way to fend off rustlers – but it found a use with both gangsters and lawmen during prohibition.
By the outbreak of the Second World War, the updated Thompson M1928A1 was in use with the U.S. Army and United States Marine Corps, yet it was found that the 50-round drum magazine was prone to jamming while it was considered too heavy and bulky. By D-Day the U.S. military adopted the M1A1, which utilized a 20 or 30 round box magazine and more importantly lowered the production costs from nearly $210 each to $45 a piece.
Generally carried by platoon and squad leaders, the Thompson fired the .45 ACP cartridge and the M1A1 version had a rate of fire of 625rpm and an effective range of 165 yards.
Best Guns Ever Used by the US Military: The M1 Garand
Developed prior to America’s entry into the Second World War, the M1 Garand was certainly the best rifle used in the conflict. The gas-operated, semi-automatic rifle could hold eight rounds, and easily fire upwards of 40-50 rounds a minute, which was a considerable step up from most bolt action rifles of the era.
It was also designed to fire the .30-06 Springfield cartridge, the same round that was utilized with the M1903 Springfield bolt action rifle, the Browning Automatic and the .30 caliber Browning machine gun. That ensured that troops weren’t left scrambling for ammo. That also meant it had greater stopping power and range than the submachine guns being utilized at the time.
Some 5.5 million M1 Garands were manufactured during the war, and while other nations attempted to introduce their own respective self-loading/semi-automatic rifle, nothing even came close. It is easy to see why General George S. Patton called the M1 rifle, “the greatest battle implement ever devised.”
Best Guns Ever Used by the US Military: AR15/M16
Even among gun aficionados, the name Eugene Stoner isn’t all that well known, even if his AR15/M16 is practically a household name. The military version actually had a rocky start, however. Many in the United States military had gone all in with the M14, which was little more than an updated version of the M1 Garand, while the world had moved forward – and the Soviet Union had introduced its infamous AK47.
Yet, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara pressed forward to phase out the M14, and called for the adoption of the M16. Once refined as the M16A1, it became known to be a reliable and accurate deadly firearm. It was also lighter and better suited to the jungle fighting in Vietnam, and for more than 50 years, the AR15/M16 family of firearms has set the standard for American military small arms.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes Magazine.