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FIRE! The US Military’s 5 Best Guns of All Time

You can’t go wrong with any of these weapons. They have all seen much combat action and are reliable, versatile, and robust. Many veterans of the armed forces have fired these firearms and can instantly recognize them in broadcast news reports or movies. It is easy to see why they are some of the greatest weapons of all time.

US Army
A Soldier assigned to U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa engages pop-up targets with an M4 carbine during marksmanship training at Cao Malnisio Range in Pordenone, Italy, Jan. 26, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Davide Dalla Massara)

A 5 Minute Explainer – The US Military’s 5 Best Guns of All Time: As you know, 1945 readers love and appreciate our coverage of US military weapons system. But what about the various guns that have served in the US military, both big and small? Clearly, a few really stand out.

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Let’s look at some of the best pistols, rifles, and machine guns in the history of the U.S. military.

US Military’s 5 Best Guns of All Time: Colt M1911

What pistol is still being used 100 years after its inception? That would be the Colt M1911 .45.

If you are a gun collector you probably have one. It might even be a pearl-handled gold or silver-plated model to commemorate all the wars it has been apart of.

It was originally designed after the tough fights against insurgents during the Philippine insurrection from 1899 to 1902. Then it emerged in World War One and Two and thousands upon thousands were produced.

The Army wanted an automatic handgun rather than a revolver with a bullet that could penetrate jungle foliage and had ample stopping power. Fast-forward to the jungle fighting of Vietnam and soldiers and Marines wanted it for the same reason.

It weighs 39 ounces with a five-inch barrel. However, the magazine is usually only seven or eight rounds (fewer than the M9 Beretta) and the effective range is 50 meters.

It was in service until 1985 when it was then replaced by the M9 Beretta. But many service members including special operations forces, missed the M1911, because they believed the .45 ACP was a better round than the 9mm. They also preferred the M1911 because it was not as thick and it was easier to conceal, which explains its appeal to law enforcement too.

M1911 and M1911A1 Comparison.

US Military’s 5 Best Guns of All Time: M4 Carbine

It started as a shorter version of the M16 called the CAR-15 that was used by some special operations units during Vietnam. It later became known as the M4. The modern special ops units took it up to clear rooms in the urban combat of Iraq and in the villages of Afghanistan. The barrel is only 14.5 inches compared to the M16’s 20-inch barrel, plus it is lighter than the M16.

M16A4

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Noah Larose, motor transportation operator, Combat Logistics Battalion 6, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, fires an M16A4 rifle during a rifle marksmanship qualification on Alpha Range at Stone Bay on Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Oct. 3, 2019. Marksmanship qualification is required once a year for all Marines and consists of two tables that test the individual’s knowledge and skills while operating the M16A4 rifle or the M4 carbine in order to maintain mission readiness. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ginnie Lee)

M4

A 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Maritime Raid Force Marine fires an M4 Carbine at a range in Jordan, June 19, 2013. Exercise Eager Lion 2013 is an annual, multinational exercise designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships and enhance security and stability in the region by responding to modern-day security scenarios. The 26th MEU is deployed to the 5th Fleet area of responsibility as part of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group. The 26th MEU operates continuously across the globe, providing the president and unified combatant commanders with a forward-deployed, sea-based quick reaction force. (U.S. Marine Corps photograph by Sgt. Christopher Q. Stone, 26th MEU Combat Camera/Released)

Some regular-Army infantry units started using it in the early 2000s to better conduct airborne and air assault missions or mechanized operations. The M4 uses the same magazines and ammunition (5.56mm) as the M16. The stock is collapsible to make it more compact and to accommodate different body types. The rail system offers an unprecedented number of accessories such as sights and aiming augmentation. The M4 is just a great all-around weapon.

M4 Carbine

Tanya Cooper, the wife of Lance Cpl. Jacob Cooper, fires off rounds from the M4 service carbine April 9 during 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion’s Jane Wayne Day at Combat Center Range 500. The spouses had the opportunity to use the weapons systems their husbands use in both training and combat.

US Military’s 5 Best Guns of All Time: M60 Machine Gun

Another legendary weapon is the M60 machine gun.

This was ubiquitous during Vietnam as it entered service in 1957 and spread widely throughout the military. Nicknamed the “Pig,” it fires the powerful 7.62mm round that accompanied many a platoon in the bush of Vietnam. The gun takes belt-fed cartridges that needed an assistant gunner to load. The A-gunner also could carry more ammunition.

Infantry platoons are usually called “guns up” after making contact with the enemy – ensuring the M60 fies rounds as quickly as possible. The M60 could suppress fire while keeping adversaries pinned down, then maneuver units followed-on to the objective. It was also used effectively by door gunners deployed in helicopters.

The Pig, as its nickname implied, was heavy and needed cleaning frequently. But it was reliable and could take a beating. By 1997, the military needed a machine gun that was more portable, lighter, and easy to carry. The M60 gave way to the Belgian FN-built MAG 58 and then later the M240.

A camouflaged infantryman armed with an M60 machine gun.

M60E3

A Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) team member fires an M60 lightweight machine gun from the shoulder during a field training exercise.

US Military’s 5 Best Guns of All Time: M24 Sniper Rifle

Do you want to use one of the rifles that snipers grab for high-range well-placed shots? Your Remington Model 700 is one to depend on. You may not know that the Army’s M24 sniper rifle is based on that trusty deer rifle and it has seen action for decades. It has a bolt action and is easy to fire.

The M24 shoots the .308/ 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge with a five-round magazine and a Leupold Mk IV M3 10×42 mm scope. It weighs 15 pounds and it’s accurate out to 800 meters.

Snipers like that the trigger pull is adjustable.

Its aluminum butt-plate enables the sniper to adjust the length of pull from 12-inches to 14-inches.

Most snipers in the Army and Marine Corps have fired the M24 and they may have learned to shoot long-range with it. Snipers from law enforcement use it as well. It is an accurate and powerful stand-by rifle with few complaints other than a less-than-desirable range.

U.S. Army’s M24 Sniper Rifle

Image: Creative Commons.

US Military’s 5 Best Guns of All Time: M2 Machine Gun

Do you want to really make sure the enemy is taking cover? Just fire the M2 .50 caliber machine gun anywhere at targets downrange.

All branches of the military have fielded it over many decades. It has been deployed on tanks, armored personnel carriers, airplanes, helicopters, and boats over the years. The M2 has been in service since World War One and it’s not going anywhere.

Nicknamed the “Ma-Deuce,” the M2 has a muzzle velocity of 2,980 feet per second with a range of 8,000 meters. The M2 can produce a maximum of 850 rounds per minute. It is usually considered the most important casualty-producing weapon in the infantry inventory. And it is ordinarily the first gun placed in a defensive position. But it is heavy at 84 pounds. Once a range card is produced, it tends to stay put.

M2 .50 Caliber Machine Gun

Image: Creative Commons.

Which Gun Is the Best?

You can’t go wrong with any of these weapons. They have all seen much combat action and are reliable, versatile, and robust. Many veterans of the armed forces have fired these firearms and can instantly recognize them in broadcast news reports or movies. It is easy to see why they are some of the greatest weapons of all time.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.

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