M1941 John­son Au­to­matic

A World War II veteran that has been to hell and back

Outdoor Life - - CONTENTS - by JOHN B. SNOW

THE COM­BAT TROOPS in World War II who car­ried John­son Au­to­mat­ics loved the ri­fle. Not many of these .30/06s were built, but they were used by Marines in the Pa­cific on Guadal­canal and other hell­holes, and were car­ried in Europe by the 1st Spe­cial Ser­vice Force, aka the Devil’s Bri­gade. This par­tic­u­lar ri­fle was picked up in a gun store in Macon, Ga., a cou­ple of years back, and the new own­ers wanted to find out more about it. A cu­ra­tor from the Cody Firearms Mu­seum who ex­am­ined it said all the parts were orig­i­nal and the wear marks in­di­cated it had been in ac­tion. But whether it had fought in the hands of a Marine or a sol­dier is a mys­tery. De­spite its scarred ex­te­rior, the ri­fle is still fully func­tional, though these days it serves as a deer ri­fle on cold fall morn­ings, not as a weapon of war. That’s a fit­ting home­com­ing for a ri­fle that helped pro­tect the world in its hour of need.

1 Buttplate

The fine check­er­ing on the steel buttplate helps keep the stock from slip­ping around when the ri­fle is shoul­dered and of­fers pro­tec­tion to the stock as well. I ex­pected the M1941 to kick like the prover­bial mule. How­ever, af­ter putting about 140 rounds through the ri­fle, I was pleas­antly sur­prised to find my shoul­der in­tact, pain-free, and ready to de­fend free­dom with more hot Amer­i­can lead.

2 Rear Sight

The small rear peep sight has a screw to ad­just for windage and a grad­u­ated se­ries of lad­der notches num­bered from 1 to 9 that cor­re­spond to el­e­va­tion from 100 to 900 me­ters— in the­ory, at least. The stri­a­tions on the wings of the sight and the flutes ma­chined into the windage knob are in­ter­est­ing er­gonomic en­hance­ments and the kind of crafts­man­ship that be­came rarer on mil­i­tary weaponry in later years.

3 Ro­tary Mag­a­zine

The beer-belly mag­a­zine is the most visu­ally dis­tinc­tive fea­ture on the ri­fle. It holds 10 rounds of .30/06—two more than the M1 Garand—and un­like the M1, it doesn’t make any type of au­di­ble ping when the last round is fired. This was part of the ap­peal of the ri­fle to the troops who car­ried it. The mag­a­zine loads eas­ily when fed sin­gle car­tridges and is also de­signed to ac­cept car­tridges on a strip­per clip.

4 Bolt

The John­son Au­to­matic has a ro­tat­ing bolt head with an ejec­tor slot milled into the bolt face. On the last shot, the bolt locks to the rear. Af­ter recharg­ing the gun, pulling the bolt to the rear and let­ting it sling­shot for­ward puts you back in the fight. The ac­tion likes to be run wet. With a light spray of oil on the bolt, it ran per­fectly—though with a thor­ough clean­ing, it might cy­cle just fine when dry as well.

5 Bar­rel Shroud

For proof that they don’t make them like they used to, just look at the bar­rel shroud. With all those holes drilled in it, it is ac­tu­ally part of the re­ceiver. The whole ac­tion—from the slot be­low the rear sight all the way up to the end of the shroud—was ma­chined from a sin­gle piece of steel, re­quir­ing a se­ries of cuts that no mod­ern firearms maker would ever con­sider do­ing, as it would drive the cost way up.

6 Front Sight

The front sight is a re­verse ramp with a wing on each side to pro­tect it. The bar­rel was turned to a smaller di­am­e­ter and given a shoul­der that acts as a stop on the sight to po­si­tion it cor­rectly be­fore be­ing pinned in place. I found the sight pic­ture to be per­fectly clear in the sun, but ac­cord­ing to some ac­counts, troops would some­times cut off the wings to avoid aim­ing with them by mis­take in bat­tle.

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