At the time of the M1 rifle’s adoption in 1936, the National Match Model 1903 Springfields reigned supreme on the rifle ranges. Critics of the new-fangled semi-automatic service rifle were convinced that it was not accurate enough to compete with the proven bolt-action match rifles. Some grudgingly admitted that the new rifle might be marginally accurate enough for service use but would never pass muster at Camp Perry and similar venues. As was the case on many other occasions, those who denigrated John Garand’s masterpiece were proven wrong.
While the M1 was designed to be a combat rifle, Garand always had its potential as a match rifle in the back of his mind. This was revealed in an article he authored titled “Grooming the Garand for Perry” in the September 1947 issue of The American Rifleman, in which he gave an interesting glimpse into his thoughts on the subject: “I am confident that [the M1 rifle] is potentially as accurate as any service rifle ever made, and that with the same care that has been bestowed on the 1903 National Match rifles in the past, it can be made to give long-range accuracy that will excel that of any other military arm.”
The demand for rifles during World War II precluded development of a match version of the M1, but this changed in the immediate post-war period. As related by Maj. Gen. Julian S. Hatcher: “The M1 made its postwar debut on the rifle range in the Marine Corps Pacific Division rifle match fired at Pearl Harbor in February, 1946. This was followed by other Marine Corps divisional matches … . These were followed by a similar series of Marine Corps matches in 1947 and 1948 and also by some Army Area matches; all of which gave some indications as to the future target possibilities of the Garand.”
The genesis of the true National Match Garand occurred in 1953 when the chief of ordnance directed Springfield Armory to select 800 M1 rifles for use in the National High Power Matches to be held at Camp Perry in the fall of that year. It is important to note that the regulations for these matches mandated that all rifles fired in the competition be “the service rifle as issued.” This precluded any significant modifications that would prevent the rifles in the matches from (theoretically) being used interchangeably with standard service rifles.
1953-1958 “Type 1” National Match M1 Rifle
As the first Type 1 National Match rifles saw use at Camp Perry in 1953, Springfield Armory engineers were assigned to work as armorers and gunsmiths on the rifles so they could listen to the various suggestions and complaints heard from competitive shooters. The Armory took this information to heart when planning for the fabrication of the next batch of rifles for the 1954 National Matches.
Although the 1954 National Match M1 rifles were an improvement over those made the previous year, it was apparent from the various complaints heard at the ’54 matches that more care in the selection and fabrication of the rifles was necessary. To this end, the following inspections and fitting of parts for the 1955 National Match rifles were forthcoming:
-Barrels were inspected and their straightness was determined by air gauging -Bolts were selected that exhibited minimum headspace requirements
These points were over and above the standard assembly procedures and inspections performed on all M1 service rifles. Beginning in 1957, the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice (NBPRP) began to relax the definition of what could and couldn’t be used on National Match rifles in order to remain in compliance with the “service rifle as issued” dictate. As stated by noted researcher Bob Seijas, “In 1958 the first of the special NM parts, a gas cylinder whose rear ring was reamed out to prevent contact with the barrel was included as a specification on newly constructed rifles. It proved to be the ‘nose of the camel in the tent’ and the beginning of the end of the ‘service rifle as issued.’”
In 1958 the NBPRP regulations not only permitted the gas cylinder to be modified, but the component could also be marked “NM.” Prior to this date, the only allowable NM marking on the rifles was on the barrel. Although Springfield Armory reamed out the gas cylinder rings, it is not believed that any were NM-marked in 1958. Since the 1958 NM rifles did not have any NM-marked parts (except for the barrels), they are still generally classified as Type 1 rifles. Most were later upgraded by the addition of newer pattern National Match parts, which makes examples remaining in their original 1953-1957 configuration scarce. Since those National Match rifles were fabricated from new production M1s, all exhibited the same features as service rifles made during that same period.
Except for recognizing the barrel inscribed “NM” between the rings of the gas cylinder, it can be quite difficult to positively identify a genuine unaltered Type 1 National Match from a standard M1 of the same era. Therefore documentation from the government—such as original bills of sale—are highly valued as they can confirm the originality of such rifles. Most of the unaltered original Type 1 NM rifles will exhibit the following characteristics:
-Springfield Armory manufacture
It should be noted that the early production examples (1953-1955) may have different parts from those listed above. The NM rifles made in those years were unavailable to the public until December 1955, when about 50 were sold. The first significant sales of National Match M1 rifles began in 1956 via the Director of Civilian Marksmanship (DCM), and those are likely the only genuine NM rifles in private hands today.