Johnson Model 1941 Rifle

Designed in 1936 by Melvin Johnson, the M1941 Johnson Automatic Rifle was a competitor to the M1 Garand, but not introduced in time to actually be adopted din place of the Garand. Instead, Johnson hoped to have his rifle accepted as a parallel second option for the US military in case something went wrong with the rollout of the Garand, or production simply couldn’t meet the required levels.

However, Johnson was not able to make his case to the military successfully. A small number of Johnson Light Machine Guns were acquired by the US Paramarines and the First Special Service Force, and a large order (30,000 rifles) was placed by the Dutch government for shipment to the colonies in southeast Asia (it is from this order that the M1941 designation comes). However, those colonies fell to the Japanese before a significant number of rifles were able to be shipped out. This left a substantial number of rifles orphaned in the US, and a small number of these were unofficially put in service by acquisitive Marines, mostly in the Pacific theater.

Mechanically, the Johnson is a short recoil system with a rotating bolt (very similar to the later AR-15 bolt, which Johnson would influence). It is chambered for the standard .30-06 cartridge, and feeds from a 10-round rotary fixed magazine which can be fed by stripper clips or with individual cartridges.

40 Comments

  1. Ian, with the bolt handle pin, in use with the cartridge as a tool for disassemble, would it be possible to use the rim, or maybe the mouth of a fired cartridge, to pick the pin up, as that pin appears to have a head.

    • Hear, hear!
      As it is it calls for surgical expertise – and surgical cleanliness, as fingertips covered with gun-oil would be quite slippery.
      Great video,Ian,
      Regards,
      Andrzej

  2. Funny you make mention of the Colt 2000 here. A potential forgotten weapon IMO, with only a couple years of production in the early 90s and less than 30,000 made. There is one sitting cheap and unloved at a LGS I keep thinking of picking up for just that reason, but then I thought about buying a Vektor CP1 too. The 2000 is probably the ugliest pistol ever though and I’d rather not have to explain why I own one every time someone sees it LOL

  3. This is my favored American “classic”. Actually, as I placed couple videos back comment on Garand with muzzle trap, this is an ‘inverted’ one to it.

    As I was able to examine Johnson’s rifle in-nature, I was not able to shoot it. So much more I appreciate shooting sequence video, which indicates the ease with which the gun operates. I have high regard for Mr.Johnson work, among reasons for it is the manufacturing technique he used for receiver fabrication.

    • Does not get in the way. Allows one to get into a proper prone shooting position. Not saying that justifies it, but those are some advantages.

    • True, it is rare and as Jacob says, it has one big advantage – it does not get in the way. It is however a bit strange creature, as you pointed out; it needs some complex wood machining.

      If I was facing the task I’d probably attempt mini-drum/ snail type, similar as what we see, but detachable.

      • I think back in the 1930’s there was a not a lot of value placed on detachable magazines for infantry rifles. The tactics that depend on them didn’t become commonly accepted until during or after WW II, I think.

        When looking at military rifles I find it useful to think about what doctrine they were intended to support.

    • In the words of the inventor:

      https://www.google.com/patents/US2341869

      His own light machine gun used a box magazine, so he wasn’t against the idea, but note that they are re-loadable from stripper-clips or single-loading without the need to detach them from the firearm:

      https://www.google.com/patents/US2409568

      One of the big down-sides of detachable magazines is that you’re eventually going to run out of loaded mags, and if you’ve been dropping empty mags as you advance you’re going to end up with boxes of ammo and nothing to put it in, and if you’re retaining empty mags you’re carrying excess weight and wasting time stowing them on your person. The Garand enbloc clip was a good compromise for a rifle meant to be used in pitched battle. The bandolier came right out of the ammo can with 6 enbloc clips loaded up and ready to go. You sling two and you’ve got 96 rounds ready to go with no need to load magazines and no need to retain empty ammo holders.

      Johnson’s beef with this setup was that in a standard 6 pocket bandolier you could fit 12 stripper clips of 5 rounds of .30-06. So, slinging two got you supplied with 120 rounds of ammo. 24 extra rounds for every visit to your ammo carrier. Also, as described in the above patents, his designs could be topped up from stripper clips or single loading without the need to drop a mag or eject a partially exhausted enbloc clip.

      Problems of supply are rarely thought about in these days of dropping mags in the dirt and running on.

      • Perhaps someone will find the reason why the other team keeps weapons chambered for NATO ammunition… battlefield scavengers tend to find lots of ammo and unexploded ordnance… And maybe we should send someone to make sure loose magazines aren’t lying around waiting to get picked up by the other team. Did I mess up?

      • Brian,
        A bandoleer is one thing, but standard issue in those days was a cartridge belt holding 5 pockets on each side, each pocket holding 2 5 round stripper clips, 10 rounds per pocket, 50 rounds per side for a total of 100 rounds per cartridge belt. Or 1 8 round loaded Garand en-bloc charger per pocket for a Garand total load of 80 rounds.
        A cartridge belt was a part of the durable, handy for carring considerable useful kit while a bandoleer but a flimsy disposable bit of shipping convienence.
        80 rounds vs 100 rounds was a common controversial bit for ignorant newsaper reporters and deskbound house-cats in congress who never had to deal with fishing for loose rounds that had slipped out of the strippers in shipping.
        The real comparison was not 10 vs 8 per questionable ‘clip’, but rather 1 each secure 8 to reliable rounds vs barely usable 1 each 5 rounds…twice. The twofers hardly actually useable under duress.
        Interestingly, when the US Marines turned their Garands in for M14s, the standard magazine issue, at least initially, was 3 20 round mags (1 in the gun, 2 in 2 single pouches.). Somewhere along the line likely a selection of Gunnies reminded the powers that be that they remembered human-wave attacks and perhaps 60 ready rounds was not as desirable as 100 of the same. They soon went to 5 mags like the Army, and then the practical application, “How many of these here magazines am I willing to carry in these here pockets…? Plus maybe 1 or 2 of these here bandoleer things…
        Maybe I should remind the Top about me being an ‘Internal Cumbustion kind of guy…”
        :):):):D

        • 103David,

          A full but flimsy bandolier beats an empty ammo pouch every time, but you’re right, as much as you can carry is even better. ^__^

          The real down side to the Johnson rifle was lack of long term durability. There’s a reason Winchester, (Olin Industries), ditched what was left of Johnson Automatics after they bought them out.

    • Looking at it some more, the ability to top off the magazine with single rounds, even without opening the bolt, reminds me of the Krag rifle. And the rifle the M1 Garand was replacing still had a magazine cut-off. The shoot one, load one, and have 9 in reserve concept, may have appealed to some people, especially ordinance officers who may not have spend much time actually shooting a rifle since the Krag was issued.

      More practically, the ejection port on the Johnson is kind of small and there would be no way to load it with stripper clips unless the receiver design was to be modified somewhat. This magazine design, if it was not going to use a detachable magazine, may have been more about dealing with the receiver design than about a desire to have a rotary magazine.

      • Loading the magazine with single rounds is a useful emergency feature for situations where you run out of pre-loaded clips, at least in theory. In practice machine guns usually ran out of ammo first, so loading the rifles with single rounds was rare.

    • They aren’t all that rare. The Greek-issue Mannlicher bolt-actions had the Schoenauer rotary magazine, just liker M-S sporting rifles did.

      Also, the experimental Japanese WW2 copy of the Pedersen toggle-action self-loading rifle had a Johnson-type rotary magazine.

      cheers

      eon

    • “What are advantage of Johnson’s rotary magazine…over:
      -simple box magazine (assuming that both are fixed)
      -other rotary magazines (for example Mannlicher–Schönauer)”

      It’s patentable. 😉

  4. this rifle is very easy to convert to 7.62mm NATO if you have a spare barrel without changing the rifle permanently

    and is better to shoot with

  5. The one thing to understand about the bayonet on a military rifle, at least since repeating rifles were developed in the late 19th century is that the opportunity to stick an enemy in modern combat is pretty darned rare. Maybe even illegal under the rules of the various Hague Convention manifestations. (Note to the uninformed, the “Geneva Conventions” most commentation mistakenly cites deals with mostly the treatments POW’s, poison gas, and non-combat type folks. Nothing from ‘Geneva’ applies to small arms in any way. The subsequent retroactive nature of much of the post WW II “judgements” guarantees the continuing morass of practical application of most said ‘Judgments.’)
    The modern purpose of the bayonet is not to kill, but rather to intimidate untrained non-combatants, civilians and others you just really want to go home and quit making a ruckus in the town square.
    Been on both sides of the ‘town square’ thing myself and the intimidation of the bayonet is VERY effective, while on the other hand, I’ve never seen anyone actually stuck.
    This is considered to be a positive and desirable outcome.

    • Great point but what happens when some thug decides to challenge your bayonet with a huge rock? I don’t suppose you would want to run him through or fill the idiot with copper-jacketed lead in front of a camera…

    • Bayonets were used extensively in WWI. They’ve been used in combat as recently as Afghanistan by the British (“used” as in stabbing someone to death with one mounted on the end of a rifle).

      Bayonets have two major advantages at close quarters. One is that the “range” of the bayonet is fixed and very short, so you don’t have to worry about who might be behind your target. You are therefore much less likely to kill one of your own people in a close quarters melee (or are more free to attack quickly if you want to look at it another way).

      The other is that if you are suddenly attacked by someone with a bayonet (or knife) at close quarters, you can actually defend yourself as opposed to only hoping to sufficiently offend the opponent first. That is, you can actually *stop* the other guy’s attack instead of hoping that he will die quickly enough to do you any good if you only shoot him. I doubt that most modern infantry get enough training in defensive use of the bayonet to be effective at this though.

      • It’s very difficult to adjust a rookie from the civil mindset to the combat instinct of getting up close and personal with a hostile enemy. More importantly, practical bayonets are also utility knives so that they can help do other things while NOT killing people.

    • It would be interesting if Johnson had considered going with a folding bayonet. It would not have helped the balance any, but the tuning of the recoil operation could have been the same if the bayonet was folded out or folded in.

      • Melvin Johnson was an accuracy nut. While he may have briefly considered a folding bayonet, the f/x on accuracy would have quickly eliminated it from consideration and led him to designing the “tent peg” the M1941 used to check the bayonet box on the Army’s requirements checklist, even as I’m certain he likewise considered the possibility for it’s use in actual combat had already come and gone.

  6. CD,
    That’s the nice thing about having multiple options…and some life experience to go with it…
    First, remember, live ammunition should never be issued in a situation intended to be nonlethal. That lets the copper-jacketed lead out of the mix.
    Assault with a huge rock is certainly defensible and the sort of thing you’d actually want filmed. However, if you think about the concept of “big rock” vs “pointy-steel-really-sharp-sticker-on-end-of-pole you can see why a (AKA) spear is somewhat up the evolutionary scale from “big rock.”
    I’ve never utilized the legendary “Nail rock-wielder to the floor with bayonet” technique myself but I’d think that most discouraging to the wielder plus (if filmed) likely a sure contender for display on the Comedy Channel.
    But really, look up “Buttstroke” and all will be revealed…

  7. I like the Johnson rifle and admire the creativity and tenacity of Melvin Johnson. But, being familiar with both,if I had to go into a fight I’d chose the M1 Garand over the Johnson (assuming an adequate supply of M1 clips). The Johnson has more “fiddly bits” in its assembly IMO. The two little retaining pins fore and aft of the magazine for instance. As for the bayonet question, I can see the utility in very close quarters combat and for crowd/riot control but the experience of pugil sticks in Marine Corps boot camp (135 lb me launched against another private who was probably 250 lbs..with predictable results)impressed upon me that it would be wise to avoid those situations that required fighting with a bayonet. Efficient use of ammo seems a better option. As for the ease of topping off the magazine with loose rounds, I think that may to be overstated. I tend to think the solid en-bloc clip of the M1 is a decent trade off over the normal rather fumbley loose 5 5rd stripper clip. In some situations one system would be better, in other situations the other would be. Not a clear cut advantage either way IMO. In its era, the en bloc clip was a great advantage both in use and from a simplicity of manufacturing standpoint. A previous video of Ian’s pointing out the scarcity of box magazines for the MP44 illustrates my point. Again, in its era.

    I think the video errs a bit in describing the function. The actual bolt head has to turn to unlock, not the rear as described in the video. If you look at the angled cam surfaces that interface between the bolt head and the bolt body, you can see that as the bolt head turns to unlock as it recoils into the receiver cam surface, some of the energy of the bolt is translated into the rear of the bolt causing it to accelerate and finish the cycle, not just residual momentum.

    In the auction description of this rifle, it describes a repair to the butt stock behind the magazine. It describes additional wood being added. I have seen this on a number of 1941 Johnsons so I don’t believe it’s actually a repair. I suspect it was a normal part of manufacture on the stock since the swell of the stock behind the magazine would require a very thick stock blank to make one-piece. Lots of wasted walnut. High quality strong wood glues (as used in wooden aircraft) were well developed at that time so it would make perfect sense to add the necessary thickness only at that location to the stock blank.

    An apocryphal tidbit I picked up from an old guy at a gun show some years back; He maintained that the barrel of the 1941 is identical to the barrel of the US 1917 Enfield. It just has the locking lug barrel extension threaded on. I haven’t placed the two types of barrels side by side to compare but the chamber end profile is certainly similar. The fact that Johnson Arms made replacement barrels for 1917s in the WWII era would certainly lend credence to the story.

    • I think you are right in cycle description; it is Bolt which forces Carrier backward while being forced to rotate. In order for that to happen, some amount of recoil energy is absorbed in friction between angled surfaces and mentioned cam in Receiver. It is clever design resulting in recoil force moderation. I’d call it recoil-governed retarded blow-back. But it ought to be said it requires strong Receiver construction.

      Also, you addressed interesting point in stock manufacture. This was probably bit more tedious than straight (without swell) stock and adding wood locally was the only way to obtain the end economically.

    • A side note about wood glues: the technology may have been well developed in the US, but for example the Soviets had to import glue from the US to stop their laminated aircraft wings from delaminating. Use of wood in aircraft construction was in necessitated by the relative lack of aluminium in the USSR after the German invasion.

  8. Why was it, inspite of the voluminous firepower that the Americans had at their disposal, they took four and half years to defeat the Japanese who had mostly antiquated weapon delivery systems?

    It took the Soviets five days to defeat the Japanese.

    • That’s because the Soviets had surprise attacked the Japanese after denouncing a non-aggression treaty signed after the Battles of Khalkhin Gol… The Japanese were not really stomped by “Superior” Soviet forces but STABBED IN THE BACK JUST AS THE ATOM BOMB WAS DROPPED ON HIROSHIMA. Before you call me out, try researching the damn events. Japan tried to conquer Mongolia and failed when the Soviets backed the Mongolians. There was a treaty signed, so that Japan would not ever mess with Soviets and vice-versa. 3 months after Hitler shot himself, the USSR denounced the papers and charged into Japanese-held Manchuria, perhaps hoping to grab everything including the Japanese home islands had the Japanese not surrendered to America. And by the way, the Soviets mistreated many citizens of the Puppet state of Manchukuo whom were of Japanese descent, sending them into SLAVE CAMPS.

    • No, the Soviets joined the war against Japan only a few days before we ended it for them, after years of refusing to join the Allied effort in the Far East. It was purely a case of Soviet imperialism that they declared war when they did, as a means of interfering in the wrapping up of the war with Japan and backing Mao’s revolutionary efforts in China. Patton was right…

  9. A lot of comments here wondering why Melvin Johnson went to the trouble of designing the rotary mag. Bear in mind, he designed his rifle in the ’30s, in his spare time from his job as a lawyer. As in virtually every weapon designed in peace-time, it was constructed with the exigencies of the last war firmly in mind, or at least, the Army’s requirements, which were predicated upon same. Instead of wondering why he would go to such lengths to come up with such an unusual magazine, it is more sensible to approach it from the standpoint he elaborated upon himself, which was: the issue rifle of the time for the Army [and also the branch in which he retained a Reserve commission, the USMC] was the M1903 Springfield. Melvin Johnson designed a closed-bottom magazine [a military requirement at the time] which could be reloaded using the issue stripper clips already in use for over 3 decades, ie: the same ones already in stores for the M1903 Springfield rifle. End of story, no need to develop a new en-bloc system, etc. And you have to figure, as a lawyer, he’d already done a patent search & made certain his new magazine wasn’t an infringement on someone else’s design and could be protected in turn to his own benefit. His rifle had a lot going for it at the time, and it’s too bad that Army Ordnance’s NIH attitude prevented its adoption as a substitute standard, esp. as in the early years of the war when there weren’t enough M1s to go around it could have really been a game changer, along with the Johnson LMG [which weighed 12# vs. the BAR’s #18. How many more rounds of .30-’06 is that in the ‘gunners loadout?]

  10. Sure wish I’d picked up one of these back in the early ’80s when you could still find them for <1/10th of what they go for now… and yes, I already wanted one back then, but I opted to spend my money on a DCM Garand instead! [1 per lifetime, back then] :\

  11. The Johnson-type rotary magazine design might still have a valuable application today – for ban states in the USA. Has anyone looked into this? Since it is a “fixed” magazine, perhaps it would remain legal in some ban states even if its capacity was increased to 15 or 20 rounds?

    Limited to a 10-round capacity in .30-06 or .308, I’d still mostly still prefer the Garand’s 8-round en-bloc clips, for reasons well explained by others above. But the top-loading Garand design makes mounting optics very tricky, and the side-loading Johnson magazine also looks more readily adapatable to other guns and other calibers. A Leader T2 Mk V or Kel-Tec RDB with a 15 or 20 round Johnson-style magazine in .223 might be a ver interesting product for certain locales.

    Given their cartridge base diameters of 0.4709 and 0.376 inches, for every 10 rounds of .308, in theory you could fit (.4709 /.376 * 10) = approximately 12.5 rounds of .223 into the same diameter rotary magazine. 15-round .308 or 20-round .223 rotary magazines would likely be similar in size.

    I also wonder if anyone ever tried to make a double-column version of the Johnson magazine. Perhaps that could actually work, as from its patent diagram, it appears to be more of a curved box design, lacking the spokes for each cartridige of e.g. the Savage or Ruger 10/22 magazines. The patent diagram is here:

    http://firearmshistory.blogspot.com/2014/06/rotary-magazine.html
    https://www.google.com/patents/US2341869

  12. I am looking for a 1941 johnson upper receiver tha is damaged. I know a retired gunsmith (formerly master machinist) that thinks restoring it would be a fun project.

  13. As for the bayonet, Dad carried first a BAR then he got a Johnson. I remember peoples comments when I got my Johnson about the bayonet. Dad’s reply was, “except for the M1, bayonets were totally useless on the BAR the Thompson and the carbine (which he called the 38 junior). As he would say in reply, “I was only in the first and sixth Marine Divisions, so what do I know!!”

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