Educational Zone #70 – Great Firearms – The Johnson Rifle

Recently, my friend Boyd asked me, “Do you think the guys would be interested in seeing my Johnson rifle?”

I said, “I’m sure they would. I sure know that I’d like to shoot it.”

So, he met me at the range with his rifle.

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Here it is.

The Johnson rifle was designed by Melvin Johnson and offered in competition with the M-1 Garand for acceptance by the U. S. Army in 1941. Long story short, it was rejected and the M-1 Garand was accepted. But there is much more to the story.

The Netherlands ordered 70,000 for use by their forces in the East Indies, and Mr. Johnson set up a plant and started manufacturing them in Cranston, Rhode Island under the name “Cranston Arms Co. Inc.”

But before the rifles could be sent to the East Indies, the Japanese army overran the area. The U.S. Marines were looking for a suitable semi-automatic rifle and ordered some of these rifles from the Dutch. The rifles were carried into combat by the Marine Paratroopers and served well.

The Marines reported that they especially liked the rifle’s accuracy, low recoil (about 2/3 the recoil of the Garand), removable barrel for parachute jumps, and the ability to top off the magazine with one round at a time with the bolt closed.

Between 10 and 20 thousand of these rifles were eventually made, and some were even issued to the Cubans that landed at the Bay of Pigs.

The rifle is interesting in that it is a short-recoil operated semi-automatic rifle. The barrel actually moves backwards slightly to cycle the action.

Let’s take a close look at this unique rifle.

This one is marked, "Cranston Arms, Cal. 30-06, Semi-Auto Johnson, Model 1941, Made in Providence, Rhode Island".

This one is marked, “Cranston Arms, Cal. 30-06, Semi-Auto Johnson, Model 1941, Made in Providence, Rhode Island”.

It was designed to have its rotary magazine loaded with 5 round stripper clips.

It will hold a total of 10 rounds.

You can also single load the magazine, one round at a time when the bolt is closed.

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The rear sight is an unusual looking aperture sight.

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And it has a ladder built in for longer ranges.

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The front sight has hardy wings to protect the sight blade.

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Since the barrel moves upon firing, it requires a completely enclosed barrel shroud to protect the shooter’s hand.

The shroud is made of perforated metal.

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The safety is a lever located in front of the trigger guard.

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The rotary magazine gives this rifle its very distinctive “pot belled” look.

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To remove the barrel, you simply push in a pin located near the front of the stock.

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This lowers a lock mechanism.

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You then pull upwards on the bolt handle.

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And the barrel can then be pulled forward off the rifle.

This was an advantage for parachutists that needed a shorter rifle for jumping.

It also allows very easy field cleaning of the barrel, a real concern in the days of corrosive ammo.

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Pushing is a couple more pins allows the butt stock to be removed from the action.

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You can then see the internal buffer tube, much like an AR15, located in the butt stock.

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Boyd put it all back together and I loaded it up.

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Then I gritted my teeth at the thought of shooting a $6,000 rifle.

Boyd assured me he had shot it plenty and it was good to go.

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It was a pleasure to shoot.

It had a very nice trigger, surprisingly light recoil, and plenty of accuracy.

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Tman gave it a try.

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Then Boyd got to shoot it all he wanted, because it is his rifle.

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A very interesting rifle, that, with one small difference in a military decision, would have been the main battle rifle of the US in WWII, and would have replaced those M-1 Garands that are in all of our collections.

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Conclusions:

A very interesting piece of history.

Thanks for the help, Boyd.