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The 5 Best U.S. Military Firearms of All-Time

Springfield Armory M1911-A1
Springfield Armory M1911-A1. Image Credit: Industry Handout.

After writing three consecutive 5 Worst/Bottom 5 lists for 1945, Yours Truly is starting to feel a bit like one of Spiro T. Agnew’s “nattering nabobs of negativism.” With that in mind, it is time to regenerate some positive juju. In no particular rank or order, I give you the 5 best U.S. military firearms of all time. 

The M1 Garand

You dear readers undoubtedly saw this one coming a mile away. When no less a historic icon of military leadership than Gen. George S. Patton himself calls the M1 Garand “the greatest battle implement ever devised,” that oughta tell you something. Named for its inventor, John C. Garand, this weapon was officially adopted as the standard U.S. infantry rifle in 1936, thus becoming America’s first standard-issue autoloading rifle. The M1 replaced the bolt-action M1903 Springfield, but it retained the powerful .30-06 cartridge. The Garand served official duty for 22 years, during which time more than 5.4 million units were produced. In WWII and the Korean War alike, this battle rifle earned an unrivaled reputation for accuracy, power, ruggedness, and reliability, 

The M1911 .45 ACP Pistol

Another no-brainer here, right? Yes, I know, I penned a recent article questioning the hit-or-miss reliability of non-customized M1911s produced in the last few decades. But the military-issue M1911 and M1911-A1 .45s of the first half of the 20th century were indeed reliable pieces of hardware, which goes a long way in explaining why they remained the standard-issue U.S. Armed Forces pistol for 75 years (!!) before finally being superseded by the Beretta M9, an excellent firearm in its own right. 

Legendary gunmaker John Moses Browning developed the pistol and the .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) cartridge in response to the Army’s desire for a semiautomatic handgun that offered greater stopping power than the M1892 .38 Long Colt revolver, which had been deemed inadequate against fanatical Moro warriors during the Philippine Insurrection of 1899-1902.

Mr. Browning’s invention first had to survive a grueling 6,000-round torture test. The gun did so with nary a single malfunction, and upon triggering that final shot of the field test, the firer is reported to have shouted out, “She made it, by God!” From there, arguably the single most famous wartime usage of “The Army Automatic” occurred during WWI, when Sgt. Alvin York used his .45 auto to drop seven charging German soldiers with seven shots.  

As a postscript, even though the M1911 is no longer the U.S. military’s general-issue sidearm, she remains in service to this very day with the door-kickers of the Marine Expeditionary Unit Special Operations Command (MEUSOC)

The Kentucky Rifle

Since we’re talking “of all time” here, why not harken back to a gun from our War of Independence? The Kentucky Rifle was the first truly American firearm, though it was too expensive to produce for general issue to the Continental Army, which primarily used the same “Brown Bess” musket as their British Redcoat adversaries. For those comparatively few American sharpshooters who did wield the Kentucky Rifle, it was a game changer. The British soon dubbed the weapon “the widow-maker” for the high death toll it inflicted on their officer corps.

As historian Dallas Bogan explains, “The Kentucky Long Rifle was more accurate than any known previous firearm, and it soon became famous with a flight being deadly at over 200 yards, which was an astonishing range at that time.” By contrast, the Brown Bess only had a practical effective range of 50 yards.

Colt Single Action Army “Peacemaker”

The term “Colt .45” is one of the most ubiquitous in the world of small-arms jargon, and it’s a label could just as easily be applied to the aforementioned M1911, even though Colt was far from the only producer, or the gun that preceded that autopistol by 38 years, the Colt Single Action Army revolver, AKA the “Peacemaker.” This Peacemaker employed the .45 Long Colt cartridge, which, as noted by firearms historian Mike “Duke” Venturino, “was intended not only to knock down human adversaries but also for putting their horses out of commission.” 

Officially, the Colt SAA served as the U.S. Army sidearm from 1873 to 1892, most famously at Custer’s Last Stand. Unofficially, the gun stuck around much longer than that, seeing action during the Spanish-American War, and contributing George Patton’s flamboyant ivory-handled specimen, which he first wielded in combat during the Pancho Villa Expedition of 1916.

M1903 Springfield

What goes around comes around. The M1903 Springfield that we mentioned earlier as the immediate processor of the M1 Garand was also a rightful legend. As the official standard U.S. service rifle from 1903 to 1936, this gun served the American doughboys in the trenches of The Great War. It continued to see action, both as an infantry rifle during WWII, and as a sniper rifle – again during WWII, and later in Korea and Vietnam. Continuing sales via the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) are a testament to its enduring popularity.

Agree or Disagree?

What say you about our selections, dear readers? Please let us know in the Comments section!

Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.  In his spare time, he enjoys (besides shooting, obviously) dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports. 

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Larry Gaddis

    August 15, 2022 at 9:21 am

    The M2 50 cal machine gun deserves to be on this list for its potency, longevity, and versatility.

  2. Gary

    August 15, 2022 at 11:08 am

    The ’03 Springfield is indeed a remarkable weapon but due to production problems the majority of Doughboys in World War I were equipped with .30 caliber Enfields.

  3. Ruben

    August 21, 2022 at 6:36 am

    Huh? No M14? You’re kidding, right? The M14 is _still_ the best all-around combat rifle ever made, chambered in a caliber that is used to this day with a platform that allows maximum utility of the caliber… if I had a choice of self-defense rifle _today_, hands down it would be the M14. Today. And that’s for a rifle designed in the 1950s… that means the M14 has delivered unsurpassed for over 70 years… how can that _not_ be an iconoclast?

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