Firearm of the Week, the United States Rifle, 7.62 mm, M14, M21/M25 SWS, M1A, Mk 14 EBR

“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.

The Springfield M14 / M1A

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.”

M1 Garand, One Rifle to Rule Them All

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.

The M14 in Vietnam

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.

Mk.14 EBR – Not Your Granddaddies’ M14

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.

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Comments (18)

  1. I went through basic at Ft Lewis in ’66 with an M14 and the first thing I did upon arrival in “the Nam” in ’67 was to trade my M16 to some unsuspecting fool for his M14. Many years after my return, I purchased a Springfield M1A Super Match and still have it to this day – have won several High Power matches in the interim.

  2. I spent a 20 year career carrying the ‘matel’ barbie rifle. I would have given quite a lot to have an M14. I never liked carrying a rifle chambered for a round which wouldn’t reliably kill a good sized deer and having to bet my life on it stopping a man. My uncles and my dad carried the M1, which weighs around 10.5 pounds, but when they had to use it, it worked, and it worked with the first shot. In Afghanistan and Iraq, sometimes the M16 and its essentially useless M4 variant requires three or four shots to reliably put down an enemy combatant. The same was true in Vietnam. The 7.62 X 51 is only slightly less powerful than the original M2 ball in its 147gr. loading, and will put most men in the dirt at ranges that the M16’s heaviest round is ineffective. And in Iraq and Afghanistan, a lot of shots are beyond the M16A3/A4’s range, much less the M4’s. Also, I prefer the 22 inch barrel. If I wanted a 30-30 on steroids, I’d buy one. The SOCOM rifle loses too much velocity, which equals range and penetration at distance. If I need a short to medium range weapon, I’ll carry one, but I’d rather have the potential for distance. Yes, the ammunition and the weapon are heavier. But if I need only one or two hits, as opposed to three or more at moderate ranges, then the extra weight is worth it. Finally, have you ever had to use the M16 or any of its variants to buttstroke someone? If you’re not careful, you end up with two pieces of weapon instead of one usable rifle. But with an M14 you have a very effective wooden or composite club which when used doesn’t break or render the weapon inoperable. As a battle rifle, it should have never been retired. The only thing I would have done with it is make it a little shorter as a jungle carbine for use in Vietnam,. and kept the rifle variant for everything else. And the shortest barrel length I would have had would have been 18 1/2 inches.

  3. Once I became trained with the M1 and quaified expert with it, then the M14 was a breeze to handle over the shoulder and in firing position. The M16 felt and operated like an expensive toy, but I earned another expert pin to wear with it. I had been accepted to the President’s 100 at that time, but found that the stretch of the sling distorted the barrel low, and at 400 meters pulled the slug low in off-hand, by about 4-5 inches. I transferred to the USAR school after that, teaching everything from “paragraph construction” to office clerks, then hand to hand combat, with and w/o knives, then NCO Academy at Fort Polk, and finally tank gunnery at Fort Bliss. My next transfer was to be First Sargeant at 4th Bde HQ, 95th Tng Div, Oklahoma City. Easiest job I ever had, to be the one in the unit everybody could blame…I could handle that better than slinging slugs at the enemy I never did see, except when they got slammd with a grenade or 3-4 slugs. I liked everything with which I qualified. Thanks for letting me share. God bless the US Army. I am glad I pleased everybody I worked for and with.

  4. I was trained on the M14 in basic and AIT 1964 used the E2 version in vietnam no pistol grip but did have the bipod select fire and humping ten mags for me and two 100 round belts for the M60 plus all the other stuff we had to carry it could beet you down a bit but when the fire was needed it was appreciateded by the troups fire support and deadly accurate

  5. Jack – I too shoot left handed.
    Barry – Never thought about your officer comments. There could be some truth to that.

  6. carried M14 throughout most of rngr schl; graduated 135lbs (yeah, soaking wet, swamp phase…); did not mind wgt AT ALL; at some pt., however, live ammo would have been too heavy 2B practical on long patrols; M14 done away w/ because it was so versitile, it eliminated M1,2,3carbines for wimp-officers to carry, ie, they didnt want to carry heavier M14; thus the egregious M16 (7 micro locking-lugs/reccesses, fouling gas blown into micro parts, completely unneccesary design features not popular in other mil wpns for good reasons…);my favorite reason for fantasy of re-adopting M14 is that it would hopefully be percieved/conceived by Grunts as a tool for Combat Riflery again, rather than M16spray&pray; issue an M1,2,3 carbine-type folding Para-stocked M14 for officers, authorizing them to carry folded, cross-shoulder, ‘sling arms’ on all patrols, & mind the map, radio, etc;

  7. Let me just say on that note that I’m a South Paw and always found any variation of the M-14 easy to load, and I appreciate that. I’m sure only lefties think about those factors when it come to guns.

  8. Good article, and I wonder how many people will realize the picture of the guy with the MK14 is a lefty. Southpaw love.

  9. I guess I was iniated with the daddy of the M-14, that being the M-1 and M-2. Other then the 22 rifle and the .410 shotgun I had left at home as many of us did, the M-1 and M-2 were our bacon and beans in those days. This article brings back fond memories of the ‘Strike Teams” with the B.A.R., and what we called the M-3A1 “grease gun” (.45 auto fun) with the .45 1911, S&W .38 side arms. The .30 cal. and .50 cal. machine guns were broke out for us during strike ‘alerts’only. Sorry, carried away with the times… The M-1 was another of what I call the ‘naturals’. It was usually only a matter of becoming familiar with it and proficiency soon followed. I miss it. Taken for ganted, who was to know back then that it would cost a small fortune to have another one today. Roger

  10. Seems like I remember reading a long time ago the basis for the M-14 was actually invented near the end of WW2. Only real difference between the M-1A1 (I think thats what they called it) and the M-14 was the rounds they fired. Also the primary reason they wanted the M-16 was the fact the soviets had fully automatic assault rifles. The army also procured the Bradlys because the russians had the BMPs and they bought the stykers because the russians had BTRs.

  11. I went through Marine Boot Camp in April 1967, and I was issued the M-14, and I loved it! However, on the rifle range, for some odd reason, my right cheek felt like I had been in a boxing match and was constantly pummeled on that right cheek, and it was sore every night. Of major importance to me is the chance of the operating rod handle popping out of its groove in a rapid fire mode (it happened to me several times with an M-2 Carbine). The selector switch rod that runs the length of the operating rod groove locks that rod into its groove, and that is a major reason that I prefer the M-14 over the M-1A, that and the newer civilian version is so heavily parkerized and just grates like it is real gritty. But I would give a, someone else’s, left arm for a M-14. And, yes, they are a wild ride at full auto, I agree that semi is the only way to fly one of these. But, boy are they a sweet weapon…..

  12. I carried the BAR in the USMC. It weighed 19.5 pounds unloaded and I never minded the weight. I weighed 155 lb and stood 5feet 5 inches so I was not a large Marine. Anyone who has fired the BAR in combat knows that nothing the average infantryman has can rival it.

  13. i’ve fired a “select fire” m14 full auto, granted i’m an old machine gunner 0331, but i found it controllable in short bursts, 3 or 4 rounds. just as a side benefit it convinced my daughters neo-nazi boyfriend that he didn’t really want to mess around with my daughter. he quietly left the picture shortly after, and she happily met and married a decent guy later. back to the subject, i’ve shot .30-06 in the m1 garand and m1903 springfield as well as the b.a.r., and 7.62 nato in the f.a.l. semi auto and full auto in the above mentioned m14 and didn’t feel either round was excessively “punishing”. my old m1919a4 was tripod mounted so recoil was less of a factor, and uncle sam was paying for my ammo back then.

  14. If i weren’t for the current administration a boat load of US Owned Garands and M1 carbines would be making their way from South Korea today. They are weapons that were loaned to Korea and now they would like to return them. Who wants to bet the boat would end up sinking anyway?

  15. Loved the article on the M1. A tried and true rifle. I qualified with this weapon along with its replacement M16. Even though the M16 is lighter and can carry more rounds, I prefer the M1. I actually scored better with the M1. I recently purchased an M1A Springfield (.308). I love it. It is an awesome weapon.

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