M14 Rifle in the US Military

The U.S. Rifle M14 was adopted for military service by the United States on May 1, 1957. The “M” in M14 stands for Model (Bill Ricca). It is a rotating bolt, gas operated, air cooled, magazine fed, shoulder fired weapon. As adopted, the M14 was 44.14 ” long and weighed 8.7 pounds. With a full magazine and sling it weighed 11.0 pounds. The maximum effective range was 460 meters (503 yards). The M14 has seen hostile service with the American military from the 1963 Cuban missile crisis to the Second Gulf War. The M14 rifle has been employed as a battle rifle, squad automatic weapon, competition match rifle, grenade launcher, sniper rifle and ceremonial rifle.

THE M14 IN U S SERVICE

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The Issue M14 Rifle – After final testing at the factory each M14 rifle (NSN 1005-00-589-1271) was lubricated in “accordance with packaging specifications” (USMC TI-02648A-15/6). This was accomplished by completely dipping each rifle in lubricating oil since that was the most economical means of doing so (USMC TI-02648A-15/6). After lubrication, each M14 rifle was packed inside a cardboard box (February, 1963 American Rifleman). White plastic protectors for the front sight and muzzle, rear sight, and operating rod handle were placed on the rifle prior to closing the box (February, 1963 American Rifleman). A white plastic indicator placed in the chamber signified the rifle was empty (William J. Ricca Surplus).

Additionally, the packing carton contained an in-the-wrap four pack of twenty round M14 magazines and a cardboard tube known as the Basic Initial Issue (BII) kit. The BII contained the following items: four M3 cleaning rod sections, cleaning rod carrying case, oiler, patch tip, bore brush, chamber brush and combination tool (Ricca). There was an exception to the BII inventory. BII kits made up at Letterkenny Army Depot (PA) in 1968 included the selector switch and selector spring (Ricca).

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When the new-in-box M14 rifles were received by the Army and Marine Corps, oil was present in the gas cylinders because of the factory lubrication procedure (USMC TI-02648A-15/6). Thus, the U. S. Marine Corps issued Technical Instruction TI-02648A-15/6 to deal with the problem. This Technical Instruction states “Instructions furnished in TM 9-1005-223-12 require that each M14 Rfle to be completely field stripped, cleaned and lubricated prior to firing. At that time the gas cylinder, piston and gas cylinder plugs should be thoroughly cleaned and dried before assembly.”

In the U. S. military, the selector shaft lock is installed on most M14 rifles so that only semi-automatic fire can be employed. However, the Table of Organization for the U. S. Marine Corps required three automatic rifleman per rifle squad when the M14 was the issue rifle (Mike Letson). In Viet Nam, U. S. Marine Corps units such as the 1st Marine Division’s 1st Reconnaissance Battalion and the Combined Action Platoons (CAP) were equipped with selector switches on their M14 rifles in Viet Nam (Mike Letson and Hildreth and Sasser).

The following description from the October, 1961 American Rifleman serves to demonstrate the ruggedness and reliability of the M14 rifle. “During sustained-fire tests at Ft. Benning, an M14 was fired continuously at 60 rounds per minute for 3080 rounds. The test was terminated because of the chambered rounds being pre-ignited by the hot barrel. At no time did the barrel fail to stabilize the bullet in flight. The front ends of the stock and hand guard eventually burst into flames, but the rifle continued to fire.”

M14 In Service With the U. S. Army and U. S. Marine Corps – In the U. S. Army infantry squad of the early 1960s the M14 rifle was standard issue. Each ten man infantry squad had two automatic riflemen and two grenadiers. The U. S. Marine Corps infantry rifle squad consisted of a squad leader and three four man fire teams. Each fire team had one M14 with a selector switch.

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At that time, the Marine rifleman carried the M14 magazines in canvas single magazine pouches on his web belt. The M16 rifle was introduced into service as the standard arm of the U. S. Armed Forces in the mid-1960s. For example, the M14 rifle was replaced by June, 1966 in the 22nd Infantry Regiment 4th Infantry Division of the U. S. Army (Bob Babcock photographs). The M16A1 officially replaced the M14 as “Standard A” in the U. S. Army on February 28, 1967 (Stevens and Ezell). The decision to replace the M14 rifle in Marine Corps units in the western Pacific was made in March, 1966 (Senich quoting The Marines in Vietnam: 1954-1973 History and Museums Division, Headquarters USMC January, 1974).

In Viet Nam, the M16 replaced the M14 in U. S. Marine infantry units during March, April and May, 1967 (Senich quoting The Marines in Vietnam: 1954-1973 and Culbertson). The Marine 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion had exchanged their M14 rifles for the M16 by November, 1967 (Vetter). Apparently, not all M14 rifles had been turned in by infantry units of the U. S. Marine Corps as late as February, 1968. Film footage of the battle for Hue in the Republic of Viet Nam reveals U. S. Marines engaging the enemy with M14 rifles (Vietnam Combat – Marathon Music & Video).

After the war in Viet Nam, the M14 remained in use for training and barracks duty. The U. S. Army issued the M14 to new recruits until December, 1969 and the U. S. Marine Corps did as well until December, 1971 (BattleRifles.com and SparrowHawk Stocks). Marine Corps Office Candidate School classes trained with the M14 as late as June, 1972 (BattleRifles.com). The M14 rifle was issue equipment for Marines assigned to the 32nd Street Naval Station in San Diego, California until some time in the first half of 1978 (Gunrunner at BattleRifles.com). Gunrunner was one of the Marines that loaded the M14 rifles on to a van for removal from the Naval Station in 1978. As of August, 2002 the M14 rifle was still in use by aggressor forces at the U. S. Army Ranger school.

The U. S. Army and Marine Corps have put the M14 rifle to combat use in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq in support of the War on Terrorism. Select members of the following units used the M14 rifle in those countries: U. S. Army 2nd Infantry Division, 10th Mountain Division, 25th Infantry Division, 82nd Airborne Division, 101st Airborne Division and Special Forces and the U. S. Marine Corps 1st Marine Division (photos at imageseek.com/m1a and PvtPyle July 15, 2004 post at Zion’s Camp). Some 82nd Airborne soldiers in 2002 Afghanistan had ACOG TA01-NSN 4×32 scopes mounted to their M14 rifles (June, 2003 American Rifleman). The M14 rifle as a battle rifle is far from obsolescence. Scott R. Gourley writes in the November, 2003 Army Magazine,

Another historically proven addition using the RFI for the Stryker brigade is the 7.62 mm M14 rifle. According to SFC Myhre, the M14s allow squad designated marksmen a large caliber rifle that will cover more area and provide capability that was only available in very limited numbers within the individual sniper sections.

The M14s, which are equipped with Leopold Mk IV scopes, are fielded at a rate of one per squad, with additional weapons going to specific slice elements within the brigade.

In February, 2004, the U. S. Army established a new school called Squad Designated Marksman School at Camp Bullis (San Antonio, TX) (Langham). The U. S. Army issued orders to a group of civilian shooters to serve as the faculty for this school for a period of two weeks (Langham). Designated as Volunteer Military Instructors, these civilians were all distinguished competition match shooters and members of the Texas State Rifle Association (Langham). Two groups of forty soldiers from the U. S. Army First Cavalry Division (Fort Hood, Texas) were put through a one week course on operating and maintaining the M14 rifle as a Squad Designated Marksman (Langham).

The M14 in the U. S. Navy – U. S. Navy ships inventory the M14 rifle for several purposes. They are or were maintained by Gunner’s Mates on surface ships and Missile Technicians or Fire Control Technicians on submarines. The M14 rifle is used to shoot a line (rope for landlubbers) from one ship to another during underway replenishment, arm the Shark Watch during swim call, repel boarders, and arm the security detail during loading and off loading of nuclear weapons on submarines. Navy SEAL Team 1 operating out of the Rung Sat Special Zone in the Republic of Viet Nam was equipped with the M14 rifle until November, 1967 (JR at BattleRifles.com). The Navy SEAL Teams equip themselves with M14 and M25 rifles when the needs of the mission dictate.

There are times when use of the M14 rifle is totally unexpected but very useful. One such instance occurred while the author was at sea as a crew member of the ballistic missile submarine USS Nathan Hale SSBN 623 in 1985. As a Lafayette Class SSBN, the Nathan Hale was equipped with a device known as the “towed array.” The towed array was a black steel box about the size of an automobile. It contained an assortment of radio and sonar equipment. The towed array was attached to a steel cable that could be reeled in or out from its compartment within the steel decking just aft of the missile tube hatches.

With the towed array deployed the submarine was limited to the speed, depth and dive angle it could do to prevent losing it. The benefit was that the submarine could remain submerged but continuously receive radio messages. While on deterrent patrol one day somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, the Officer of the Deck forgot that the towed array was reeled out. He ordered a bell (order to change speed) too fast for the steel cable attached to the towed array. The towed array detached from the boat (submariner term for submarine) and was quickly floating on the ocean surface.

Considering the tactical situation and the sensitive nature of the equipment lost, the Captain ordered the boat to surface. After the ship had ventilated, the Captain and a Missile Technician Second Class armed with a M14 rifle laid (hurried quickly) to the bridge. The Captain ordered the Missile Technician to sink the towed array. After cycling 134 times, the M14 rifle had put enough holes in the towed array casing to sink it to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The boat quickly dove (submariner term for submerged) thereafter and carried on its deterrent patrol without further incident.