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My M1941 Johnson

Discussion in 'Weapons' started by George Patton, Oct 6, 2013.

  1. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    I decided to give myself a birthday present - a M1941 Johnson Automatic Rifle. These are difficult to track down up here, and I was looking around for a while before finding this one.

    For those of you who are familiar with the Johnson, most of the information below is probably unnecessary.

    History:

    The M1941 Johnson was designed by Melvin Johnson as a private venture. It used a 10 round rotary magazine and a unique recoil system consisting of a rotating bolt and recoiling barrel. He campaigned to have it adopted by the US Army instead of the John Garand's design. After a somewhat controversial testing period, the Army decided to keep the M1 Garand.

    After this, Johnson signed a contract to supply M1941s to the Dutch for use in the East Indies but the contract was cancelled when the Japanese invaded. At the same time, the USMC became interested in the rifle, which was in need of new semiautomatic weapons. As a result, some of Johnson's M1941s went to the Marines and saw service in the early days of the Pacific War before being replaced by the Garand. Marine Raider battalions and Paramarines used the M1941 for a more substantial period of time (~until about 1943/1944 IIRC), and a number were also used by the 'Devil's Brigade' (1st Special Service Force) in Europe. This small number were continually phased out throughout the war, but apparently one of these M1941s made it all the way to Iwo Jima. Johnson also made a light machine gun that saw more widespread use than his rifle.

    In the end, the M1941 Johnson was a technological dead-end (although the AR15 bolt has some similarities to the M1941 bolt). It was never used in large numbers, but is a fascinating WW2 footnote. The Johnson was "considered" weaker and less reliable than the M1 Garand, especially because of its exposed barrel. About 20,000 Johnsons were built. After the war some Johnsons were used by Brigade 2506 in the failed Bay of Pigs operation. Many of the ones sold to civillians after the war were sporterized by Winifield, even further reducing the number of full-military examples on the market.

    My M1941:

    This one has clearly seen some used -- most of the parkerizing is worn off, and like many Johnsons today the rifling is well-worn. It still might shoot good, I still have to test it. The wood is in good shape, and it seems to function fine. I just stripped it down and most of the parts seem to be in good condition. This rifle has serial number 244. A collector has the original logbook and I am waiting for information pertaining to this particular rifle to be sent to me.

    The M1941 is a surprisingly modern looking rifle for something designed in the late 1930s:
    [​IMG]

    The other side:
    [​IMG]

    The bolt and rotary magazine. Not the slot to allow loading from standard stripper clips. Unlike the Garand, the Johnson's magazine can be 'topped off' with individual rounds.
    [​IMG]

    The top of the receiver. Note the low serial number.
    [​IMG]

    Trigger and rear sight. The trigger is very nice -- I actually like it better than the one on my M1D Garand! The rear sight is unique. I've never seen another quite like it on a military rifle.
    [​IMG]

    ---

    In the US, M1941 Johnsons are selling for over 4000 bucks a piece. All considered, I think the one I got was a very fair deal.

    Next up is to find a bayonet -- these were specially made for the recoiling barrel (a heavy bayonet would impede the functioning of the recoil system) and very light. They're currently going for about 500 bucks a pop.
     
  2. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    I have never heard of these, so thanks for the info!
     
  3. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    Believe it or not, I shot my first deer with a sporterized 1941 Johnson. It was borrowed from a family friend, and my Dad asked me if I liked it enough for him to buy it for me. I didn't care for it. Too heavy. So he bought me a Savage 99 in .308.

    There were a lot of those old sporterized Johnsons around in the late 60's - early 70's. I wish I had picked one up, because they were dirt cheap. I *think* the only changes made were to the wood furniture and perhaps the sights - easy enough to restore.
     
  4. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    You're welcome. I've been fascinated by Johnson's designs for a while now.

    I think Winfield made three 'grades' of sporterized Johnsons. The base model just had a refinished stock and a ramp sight in lieu of the military 'barleycorn' one. The second model had a Monte Carlo-type rear stock and the ramp sight. The top of the line model had the Monte Carlo stock and a scope mount. The first two would be fairly easy to convert back (the barrel might pose difficult, depending on how it was done), but the top the the line model with the drilled and tapped receiver would be a stretch.
     
  5. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    I no longer recall the details of the rifle. I'd be happy to have one even if it couldn't be restored.
     
  6. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    Here's a page from one of their catalogs. Looks like some of my recollections were wrong -- only two sporter models, and only one had a ramp site. Oh well...

    [​IMG]
     
  7. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    Wow! $68 for the unaltered military issue!
     
  8. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    ...Half the price of the sporter. Now its the other way around.

    As a general rule I am not a fan of sporters, but those ones do look pretty nice.
     
  9. SKYLINEDRIVE

    SKYLINEDRIVE Member

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    Nice present you got there! I really love the Johnson!
     
  10. von Poop

    von Poop Waspish WW2|ORG Editor

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    I quite like final products of discarded lines of technological evolution.
    What a pleasing thing.
     
  11. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    Thanks Tom. I think I finally found an American WW2 firearm you don't have yet!

    Much nicer looking than the Garand, isn't it? The mechanics of it are interesting.... as I said, I don't know of any other military rifles like it.
     
  12. Morg308

    Morg308 New Member

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    Very sweet! The Johnson is one of my Holy Grails. I almost bought one for $450 back in the mid-eighties, but Betsy was pregnant and having none of it. As things turned out, I should have bought the gun. The bolt was really the grandaddy of the AR15. Thanks for posting pics.
     
  13. Poppy

    Poppy grasshopper Patron  

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    Nice. Honestly thought it was some variant of the Garand because it looks a lot like the carbine. Tres cool. A Youtube video of it would be interesting.
     
  14. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    Well, its 2 years later and I couldn't pass up a good deal. Long story short, Johnson #2 is on its way. This appears to be in better condition and has a higher serial number. I was hoping it would arrive on my birthday (today) to make this the second M1941 Johnson birthday present to myself, but close enough I think! ETA is tomorrow and I'll get around to posting photos soon.
     
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  15. SKYLINEDRIVE

    SKYLINEDRIVE Member

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    Great news! So you can sell the first one to me! ;-)
     
  16. SKYLINEDRIVE

    SKYLINEDRIVE Member

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    Oops....and happy B-day my friend!!
     
  17. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    I spoke too soon -- the Johnson arrived at the post office today, and its currently sitting in my safe. I couldn't have asked for better timing! Here's a quick photo. I'll (eventually) get around to posting some better photos.

    [​IMG]

    Here's the two of them together on my crappy home office rug. According to the now-defunct Canadian Long Gun (rifle/shotgun) Registry and assuming a rather generous 30% compliance rate there are around 200 M1941 Johnsons in Canada. In other words, 1% of the total Canadian population is below (a rather pathetic fact that I'm quite proud of!):

    [​IMG]
     
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  18. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    You're a mogul among Johnson enthusiasts. That's a reputation that could easily be misinterpreted, so be careful!
     
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  19. SKYLINEDRIVE

    SKYLINEDRIVE Member

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    Noice! I really have a thing for these Johnson rifles, all tough they are per se not really "beautiful" guns.....still they have something special!
     

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