“It is better to burn out then to fade away.” Thus it was for one of the shortest-lived standard-issued battle rifles for the U. S. military. A firearm sandwiched in between the great M1 Garand and the M16, historically speaking this gun barely made a showing on the battlefield. However, in its brief appearance it made such an impression that it is once again being called in the line of duty. That rifle is the United States 7.62mm M14.
This is another story of a rifle built around a cartridge. The honored 30-06 cartridge was in its twilight years in the early 1950s. The 30.06 was to big, had to much recoil and had to long of a stroke in bolt action sniper rifles. In 1953 NATO adopted a shorter 30-06 with many of the same ballistics as the granddad of modern cartridges. The cartridge is the 7.62x51mm or, in its civilian forms, the .308 Winchester.
Several rifles came into existence during this period. The one that appeared to be the front-runner was the Fusil Automatique Leger (Light Automatic Rifle) manufactured in Belgium by Frabrique Nationale de Herstal (FN). This rifle is more commonly know as the FN-FAL Model of 1954. The United States felt it necessary, and rightly so, to come up with a homegrown solution.
Devised in 1957 and delivered in 1959, the M14, a battle rifle that could replace the aging M1 Garand and chamber this new cartridge. “Why reinvent the wheel?” some thought, “Let’s take a proven system like the Garand and build upon it.”
A great idea, with a bad implementation. The removable box magazine was definitely an improvement over the clip fed magazine. Yes little Tommy, clips and magazines are two different things. Clips feed cartridges into magazines and magazines feed cartridges into guns. The M14 has a box magazine. The Garand has a clip. Let’s move on.
The project started out well but got off course real quick. The big bend in the road was to make it selective fire. Selective Fire means it can be semi auto, shoots once every time you pull the trigger, or full auto, as long as you hold the trigger down bullets keep coming out the business end until the magazine is depleted. Now with modern mid-length cartridges full-auto is not a problem. However, in a gun designed to be carried by the average infantryman and chambered in 7.62x51mm it was a problem. Therefore, they took a good idea-the M1 Garand-and tried to match it to a new similar gun in full-auto, one word-fail.
Alright, calm down all you wannabe Rambos. I know the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) shot a larger cartridge and the M60 shot the 7.62x51mm as well but look at those beasts. Remember the M14 was chasing another idea at the time-that was the small, lightweight and most of all easy-to-carry weapon slung over your shoulder. What happened was got heavier, to accommodate the selective fire and this defeated its very purpose for the modern battlefield. Furthermore, in the jungles, rice paddies and rain soaked environments of South Vietnam the wood stock began to swell. This made sights change as the gun swelled and contracted.
Please don’t get me wrong, I love the M14 in all its forms. It is a great rifle but it is not a Squad Automatic Weapon (S.A.W.) or a standard-issue infantry weapon. Heavy gun, heavy cartridge, heavy, heavy, heavy-am I missing something here? For those of you who have lugged a rifle around—not in a video game—for any distance, back me up on this one. I love the cartridge as well, however the weapons system just missed the mark. I am going to hear it on this one. Go easy on me.
Nevertheless, do not despair M14 purists, the story does not end in Vietnam. This rifle eventually became and still is a valued weapons system in the form of the sniper rifle. The 7.62x51mm NATO is one of the great all time sniper cartridges. Furthermore, the M14 and in its sniper packages the M21 and M25 are tremendous weapons system. The Mk.14 EBR (Enhanced Battle Rifle) is an awesome weapons package. However, do not confuse it with the standard M14 issued in 1961, they are far from the same.
Now that you think I hate this rifle, in reality it is the number one rifle on my wish list. I am not a soldier in the field so I do not have to carry it all over God’s creation. In its civilian (M1A) form its an awesome all-purpose rifle in my favorite caliber.