The Gun Doctor
The Rifles of Pearl Harbor
Welcome to this week’s edition of the Gun Doctor.
Just before 8:00 am on Sunday December 7th, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the rest as they say is history.
Part of that history were the rifles used as noted this week in an article written in Guns.com.
The most common rifle used was the M1903 Springfield bolt action .30-06 with an internal five shot magazine. The Springfield was used by the Marines and held in the Navy’s small arms lockers and armories. Even lighthouse keepers and NPS park rangers in the months before the attack were issued M1903’s (on loan from the Army) and .45’s for use in patrol work along the coastline.
In 1937 a new rifle was adopted by the Army to replace the M1903 and it too was chambered in .30-06 but loaded from an eight shot en-bloc clip. The Army’s new M1 Garand were far and few during the attack and many soldiers relied on the M1903.
But those who did carry the new M1 Garand encountered another problem. The M1903 used a five round stripper clip to charge the bolt action rifle that didn’t fit the new M1.
The problem was that the .30-06 ammo was often prepacked in bandoliers for the older rifle.
When the attack occurred the new M1s were handed out and those soldiers could only fire one round at a time as the prepack bandoliers wouldn’t work in the M1. One soldier reported firing the 60-round bandolier in the new M1 one shot at a time.
During the first wave four enemy planes were shot down by Army guns but most of those guns were BARs and machineguns.
The surprise attack left many battleships helpless as they couldn’t use their 4-inch guns and instead had to rely on topside weapons, Browning Automatic Rifles and Thompson sub-machine guns.
Many of the rifles and firearms are still in existence today but even more impressive are the stories told by those who served and have been named the “Greatest Generation”.
But many of those stories are fading with those who served as there are approximately 240,000 WWII Vets alive today out of the 16 million that served during World War II.
My father was a Navy Veteran of World War II. He left high school early along with 27 others who would not graduate with their class. While he saw little to no action on a Navy supply ship, after the war they docked in Hawaii where there were piles of enemy gear and weapons. They each were allowed to take on item as a souvenir and he chose a Japanese Rifle, which went missing for several years when he returned home but was found in a friend’s basement years later. Had it not been for the government certificate, taped to the rifle stock, that allowed him to possess the rifle, it may have been lost for good. But now it remains in our family and will be passed down for generations to come as a reminder of World War II.
Another man I had the pleasure to know and work with had also served in WWII. He was a Marine assigned to the USS Phoenix. The USS Phoenix was a light cruiser and was one of the few ships to escape unharmed from the attack at Pearl Harbor. “Pops” as we called him, told the story of the attack. The ship’s captain wasn’t on board the Phoenix at the time of the attack and the gang plank which had nicely polished brass on the rails was dropped into the harbor as they frantically tried to maneuver the ship out of the harbor.
He recalled as a young 18-year-old Marine not familiar with the ship he was assigned to that he ran into the hold to retrieve ammo for the deck guns. He said he carried numerous boxes to the deck before he discovered he was delivering .30 caliber ammo to a .50 caliber gun.
Eventually the USS Phoenix made it out of the harbor and joined other ships to search for the enemy aircraft carriers which they never did locate.
If you know someone from the greatest generation who served during WWII it is well worth your time to hear their stories and never too late to say thank you.
This week we at the Gun Doctor and all from Smokin Gun Worx remember all those of the greatest generation who served, and we say thank you and to those who never made it home from that fateful day, we will not forget.
For the Gun Doctor and Smokin Gun Worx,
I’m Tim Bivins