Melvin Johnson was a gun designer who felt that the M1 Garand rifle had several significant flaws – so he developed his own semiauto .30-06 rifle to supplement the M1. His thought was that if problems arose with the M1 in combat, production of his rifle could provide a continuing supply of arms while problems with the M1 were worked out. The rifle he designed was a short-recoil system with a multi-lug rotating bolt (which was the direct ancestor of the AR bolt design). When the Johnson rifle was tested formally alongside the M1, the two were found to be pretty much evenly matched – which led the Army to dismiss the Johnson. If it wasn’t a significant improvement over the Garand, Ordnance didn’t see the use in siphoning off resources to produce a second rifle.

Johnson M1941 rifle
Johnson M1941 rifle with bayonet and scabbard

The Johnson had some interesting features – primarily its magazine design. It used a fixed 10-round rotary magazine, which could be fed by 5-round standard stripper clips or loose individual cartridges. It could also be topped up without interfering with the rifle’s action, unlike the M1. On the other hand, it was not well suited to using a bayonet, since the extra weight on the barrel was liable to cause reliability problems (since the recoil action has to be balanced for a specific reciprocating mass). Johnson thought bayonets were mostly useless, but the Army used the issue as a rationale to dismiss the Johnson from consideration.

However, Johnson was able to make sales of the rifle to the Dutch government, which was in urgent need of arms for the East Indies colonies. This is where the M1941 designation came from – it was the Dutch model name. Only a few of the 30,000 manufactured rifles were delivered before the Japanese overran the Dutch islands, rendering the rest of the shipment moot.

At this point, Johnson was also working to interest the newly-formed Marine Paratroop battalions in a light machine gun version of his rifle. The Paramarines needed an LMG which could be broken down for jumping, light enough for a single man to effectively carry, and quick to reassemble upon landing. The Johnson LMG met these requirements extremely well, and was adopted for the purpose. The Paramarines were being issues Reising folding-stock submachine guns in addition to the Johnson LMGs, and they found the Reisings less than desirable. Someone noticed that thousands of M1941 Johnson rifles (which could also have their barrel quickly and easily removed for compact storage) were effectively sitting abandoned on the docks, and the Para Marines liberated more than a few of them. These rifles were never officially on the US Army books, but they were used on Bougainville and a few other small islands.

Videos

Resources

A fellow on PracticallyShooting.com has written an excellent detailed explanation of the whole development and use of the Johnson. If that’s not enough for you, Bruce Canfield’s book is the definitive Johnson resource out there, and still readily available:

24 Comments

  1. Great video, I was born with in 5 mile from Johnson Mfg.Co. in Prov./ Cranston, R.I.. Back in the 50’s as a young man went around local Gun Shop with my father an uncle seeing these Johnson’s after they went out of business hanging on racks around “asking” $50.00 each. I asked the shop’s owner what unfired auto rifles sell for so cheap. His answer was the Vets don’t want them because Uncle Sam wont buy them..”Only if we can go back in time” Kept up the good work, great site you have my first time I seen it..

  2. THANKS FOR GREAT CHANNEL,I NOTICED THAT 2007 CHINESE FILM THE BUGLE A M1941 JOHNSON IS USED MAYBE A FUTURE BUYER OR HAVE OTHER ODD GUNS TRY AS CHINA WAS AWASH WITH SUCH MUCH AFTER WW2

  3. Hi, Have you had any problems with double tapping? I don’t pull my trigger very hard and the recoil of the first round sets off the second round. Secondly, Mine has been repaired at the rear of the receiver on the left side. Is this a normal spot for a factory repair? All of them that I have seen have been repaired in the same spot. And lastly, would you happen to know any places to get some good parts for it? I’d like to have some replacement parts for a just in case scenario. Thanks, James

  4. I have a new 1941 Johnson. Never fired. My grandpa was a marine paratrooper with the OSS and loves rifle. So he bought one when he came home. Sat in closet unfired, and now in my gun safe. 100% blue, no nicks or scratches

    • Any interest in selling this M1941 Johnson? I’ve been looking for one for my dad and to pass down the family. Any pictures?

  5. I have a 1941 Johnson rifle. Was there a sniper version of the Johnson? Mine has the front and rear sights removed and a scope mounted. The scope is mounted on a flat dovetail type rail that is machined to exactly fit on top of the receiver and fits exactly into the dovetail slot where the rear sight was mounted. It has three or four screws fastening the rail to the top of the receiver. it looks like the scope mount was made specifically for this rifle. It has an old fixed three or four power scope mounted. I am told that it originally had another scope mounted. Unertl I think that had a series of concentric rings instead of crosshairs.
    Could this be a Sniper Rifle or did someone make a custom scope mount to fit this rifle’s receiver?

    My rifle also shows signs of a wood patch just behind the rotary magazine. is this typical or were the stocks manufactured like this? It also has the number 33 stamped on the buttstock. The serial number is B6976. The stock is in great condition. Just a couple of minor dings. There is no rust but the bluing is worn off on the barrel, metal handguard and the rotary magazine. the gun seems to be in very good condition otherwise. Thank You, Robert

  6. Hi Ian,I was looking at a Johnson 1941 rifle with a 7mm barrel and don’t know if the value is less or more than the 30-06 ? Thank you Tracey

  7. Ian would it be possible to speak with you about the Johnson rifle if I give you my phone number? Thank You again, Tracey

  8. Ian,

    I recently came upon a 1941 Johnson rifle that was purchased in 1941 by a worker in the RI plant direct from the company. It has the orig sling and bayonet as well and leather scabbard. The serial marking is ‘S-3’ and nothing else. I cannot find information on that serial except for the possibility that it was a pre production prototype? I know you’re a guru of all things odd so I figured I’d see if you had any info to offer. Thanks!

  9. Hello,

    I found a M1941 Johnson rifle in display in Isdiman museum, Ambarawa, Indonesia (formerly Dutch East Indies). I thought it was used by KNIL (dutch colonial forces). It was behind a glass so I couldn’t get more information from it, but from what I saw, the condition is still quite good. Thanks for your great contents!

  10. I have an incomplete A 1941 johnson. When I bought it the barrel was replaced the rear stock was just a piece of walnut. the fore stock was missing and the bolt retainer was missing. I have Mr. Canfield”s book and I wonder if it would be possible to convert my partial rifle to the later “Daisy Mae” model that Mr. Johnson developed. My Father carried the LMG in the Pacific and suggested that the Daisy Mae might be a good Idea. Robert, My Dad’s Johnson LMG came with a scope. Open to suggestions.
    Gerald

  11. Gerald,
    I hadn’t seen another Johnson 1941 semi auto with a scope. Was the scoped LMG your father carried issued with the scope? What exactly is the “Daisey Mae” model and how does it differ from the original model? I am trying to learn all I can about the 1941 Johnson. Mine needs a front sight,pins for the front sight and bayonet lug, front sling swivel pin and front magazine pin. other than those parts, it seems to be complete. If anyone can help me find these parts, it would be much appreciated. Good luck with you Johnson rifle Gerald…

    Robert

  12. Many years ago, about 1960, a buddy and I were at an outdoor range. About 20 feet from us a group of young men pulled in and began shooting a variety of surplus rifles. The last one was a M-1941 Johnson. From a prone position,they put a belt of ammo in it, fired a few bursts, packed up and left. My buddy, a soldier in uniform and I looked at each other in total disbelief. We discussed it and all agreed that this was not possible. We never got a closeup look at it. Anyone ever seen or heard of anything like this?

  13. Another great video Ian. I just acquired a Johnson in the B2xxx serial number range. Rifle looks like it is 98% (or better) original condition, made by Cranston Arms Co.. The rifle is marked with the company name, Model of 1941, RI address and the patent numbers. The barrel is marked 30-06 and ’41. There are no other markings that I can see. The rifling and bolt face looks like it was never fired, or maby very little, since it left the factory. There are no scratches ot marks on the metal surfaces and only 1 very small dent on the stock. Can’t wait to get it to the range.

  14. Recently purchased a used 1941 Johnson from Cabelas of all places. Being somewhat an aficionado of the the military genus in general. Price was reasonable as some have seen going for well over $5000.00. Slightly sportered, an old dried up butt pad, bayonet lug gone and a different front sight. Got on line and found the parts I need to put it back together. Took it down to the indoor range ran a box of Korean surplus ammo at 25 yards and found it shot very consistently and accurately. The weapon though was hard on the brass. Took me about an hour to get everything set up for the right butt plate. Will I be shooting it a lot? No won’t be but it sure does look good with the Garand’s, Carbines, 03″s in different configurations, after market Tommy gun. Love this stuff.

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