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The Top 5 WWII Rifles

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The nations engaged in World War II all fielded one or more main infantry rifle, and in this episode of TFB TV, the guys take a look at five that they believe to be the best. They’re sticking to rifles that fire full-power cartridges, not assault rifles, machine or sub-machine guns.

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Alex starts by qualifying their criteria: the weapon must have been used to engage in the war, so firearms from Sweden or Switzerland don’t count. Reliability, innovation, legacy, total production and user-friendliness all come into account here.

First off is the French Mas 36. Alex says if he had to choose a bolt-action rifle to war, this would be it. French soldiers holding these weapons held the lines during the Blitzkrieg, and allowed over 300,000 soldiers from the British military and the extradition forces to escape to fight another day in the Battle of Dunkirk. Many French soldiers lost their lives, and Churchill spoke of these men, saying that for four critical days, these men contained no less than seven German divisions.

It’s short, light, handy as hell, accurate, rugged and simple. It’s easy to load with stripper clips, and follow-up shots are easy to line up. It’s also the easiest rifle to maintain on the list. The Mas takes number 5 on the list for its practicality and utilitarian nature.

Next is the Arisaka Type 99, which was tested by the US after the war. Those conducting the tests were astounded at how well the action worked. The carbon steel used to make the gun was incredibly strong and the receiver was elaborately heat-treated. These are modified Mauser action rifles. The ranks of the Imperial Japanese Army were largely filled with members of the peasantry, and higher officials often joked that soldiers cost only one yen, five ren, which was the cost of mailing a draft notice.

Starting in 1939, Imperial troops began using the Type 99, each of which was engraved with a chrysanthemum – the seal of the Japanese emperor. The Type 99 is strong, light, handy and the 7.7 Japanese cartridge is stout. The rear sight is of a unique ring design, and the monopod allows for stable shooting when prone. Perhaps the most interesting feature is its chrome-lined bore, which was the first infantry rifle to make use of it, providing troops with a corrosion-resistant weapon.

Third on the list is the Enfield No. 4, a crowd favorite. It was an improvement over the older SMLEs, and has a rear aperture sight, is lighter, has a stronger action, and is one of the smoothest rifles. The 10-round capacity gave it a slight edge over competitors that usually held five, but rimmed ammunition makes loading it tricky. The action on the No. 4 is a variation of the old Lee Metfords. The resourceful British continued to tinker with the action for decades, and made this a world-class combat rifle.

British soldiers armed with No. 4 rifles punched their way through the beaches of Normandy to the Rhine, and didn’t stop until the Union Jack flew over Berlin. Many deemed the No. 4 the pinnacle of what a bolt-action rifle could be.

There’s the Karabiner 98k, usually referred to as the K98k. This is a carbine version of the Mauser 98. This was the backbone of the Wehrmacht but the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe used them as well. In total, nearly 15 million K98k rifles were made by seven factories. The Germans used these rifles to devastating effect. These guns were used to march through Warsaw, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Brussels, Oslo and Paris. This is the quintessential bolt-action military rifle. Anyone with five minutes of instructions can learn to use them.

First on the list is the iconic M1 Garand, the harbinger of the semi-automatic rifle that became the symbol of a new generation of American fighting men. Officially adopted in 1936, over 6 million M1s were produced and used to great effect in Africa, Europe and Pacific. It’s highly accurate, and is still used in competitions today. It’s famous for the ping it makes after firing its last round.

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