Top 10 Rifles of World War Two

Without doubt, WW2 was the most significant and bloodiest conflict in human history. During its 6 year span empires rose and fell and millions lost their lives in the process. Be it by rifle, bomb, or machine gun, no part of the world was spared from its destruction. The war left only rubble, fire, and scars for decades to come.  

Although the war is known as the first technological war, men fought most of the battles with nothing more than their trusted firearms, and the weapons they carried, relied on, and cared for would largely determine its outcome.

The following is a compilation of the Top Ten Infantry Weapons of the Second World War:

10. The Karabiner 98K (1935–present)

World War Two saw extensive use of bolt action rifles. However, even though several armies still use them today, no nation would dare enter a war with the bolt action rifle as a standard issue.

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The Karabiner 98k was a reliable weapon of the German army. The rifle was made for shooting 7.92×57mm Mauser cartridges. After being adopted as the standard service rifle on 21 June 1935, it remained in production until the German surrender in 1945. 

Even after producing semi-automatic and automatic firearms, the Germans stayed loyal to Karabiner 98k. They did that for tactical reasons and partly because German losses had piled up, making them incapable of producing anything else. 

The Germans manufactured the world’s first accurate assault rifle – the StG 44 – at the war’s end. Yet, it never saw widespread use. Instead, the Karabiner 98k remained the weapon most German soldiers carried.

9. The M1 Carbine (1942–1973, United States) 

The M1 Garand and the Thompson submachine gun were highly reliable and valued, but they had severe drawbacks. These guns were complicated to make and use. Similarly, the Garand was long and difficult to access quickly in case of a surprise attack.

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The Thompson was a little easier to operate. However, it was still heavy for its size. 

In addition to this, The Garand and Thompson were ineffective for ammunition bearers, mortar teams, artillery crews, and other frontline troops because of their bulk. Hence, the U.S. Army settled on the M1 Carbine, which was much easier to handle. 

M1 Carbine
U.S. Army Rangers at Pointe du Hoc, Normandy. The soldier is loading his M1 Carbine

By no means was the M1 the most powerful firearm in World War Two. Yet, it was light, small, accurate, and just as deadly in the right hands. In particular, the U.S. Paratroopers liked this lightweight, semi-automatic gun, and soldiers frequently jumped into combat armed with the folding stock version due to its ease of use.

As a result, the U.S. government produced as many as six million M1 Carbines – more than any other U.S. firearm in the war. Today, variations of the M1 are still manufactured and used by militaries and civilians alike.

8. Bren Infantry LMG (1938–2006)

The Bren Light Machine Gun was a powerful, easy-to-use weapon. It was the linchpin of British infantry platoons. From 1938 to 2006, the gun remained in service for more than six decades. In addition to World War Two, The Bren LMG saw service in the Korean War and the 1982 Falklands War.

The licensed British model of the Czechoslovakian Z.B. vz. 26, the Bren, was adopted as the primary light machine gun. British and Commonwealth armies provided one Bren per rifle section.

A Bren Mk.1 gun
A Bren Mk.1 light machine gun. Although technically not a rifle, its too good to leave out.

The Bren was a durable firearm. The saying goes that a soldier could fix any problem with the Bren by hitting it. Talk about resilience!

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The light machine gun was loaded with standard issue .303 rounds. With a 30-round magazine, the Bren could fire at 500-520 rounds per minute – or 120 sustained rounds per minute. The Bren and its Czech equivalent model have been employed by armies worldwide.

7. M1918 BAR (1918–1973, United States)

The light machine gun, 1918 Browning Automatic Rifle, was standardized by the U.S. Army in 1938 and used until Vietnam. The U.S. World War Two infantry relied on the M1918 BAR. Though the U.S. never developed a lightweight machine gun as practical and powerful as the British Bren or German MG34, the M1918 BAR still did the job.

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The gun remained in service from 1918 to 1973 in the American military.

Weighing between 13 and 24 pounds, the BAR was originally conceived as a rifle support weapon. When the U.S. began exchanging fire with Germans armed with automatic weapons, the military started focusing rifle squads around at least two BARs as the centre of their tactics.

6. Lee-Enfield Rifle (Short, Magazine, Lee–Enfield: 1904–present)

The British Lee-Enfield No. 4 MK I became Britain’s standard-issue infantry rifle in 1941. It was the product of the many advances in bolt-action design that began in 1895. Some forces, like the Bangladesh Police, still use a version of the Lee-Enfield – making it the longest-serving bolt-action rifle in history.

Across all models, Britain manufactured over 17 million Lee-Enfield rifles. On average, the rifle can shoot 20–30 aimed shots per minute.

Highly deadly. An Indian soldier with an SMLE Mk III, Rifle in Egypt in1940. The Enfield had many Marks.

What the M1 Garand had in its rate of fire, the Lee-Enfield made up for in accuracy. The gun has a ladder aperture sight calibrated for 200-1,300 yd. British infantry in World War Two had fantastic range and precision, firing .303 rounds from their Lee-Enfield’s. It could hold up to ten rounds loaded with 2 x 5-round charger clips.

5. Mosin–Nagant (1891–present)

The Mosin–Nagant is an 1891 bolt-action rifle. It is a five-shot, internal magazine-fed military rifle. Despite being an old rifle, many armies used this gun in multiple conflicts. It was commonly known as Mosin’s rifle in Soviet Russia. 

At the beginning of World War Two, the Mosin–Nagant was the standard issue weapon of Soviet troops. As a result, Mosin-Nagant remains one of the most mass-produced military bolt-action rifles in history. According to some estimates, 37 million units have been produced since 1891.

This bolt-action rifle has served in countless conflicts. From the 19th century occupation of the Pamirs to the current Russo-Ukrainian War, Mosin-Nagant has seen it all.

4. Carcano (1891–1981, Italy)

Carcano, introduced in 1981, is the name for a series of Italian bolt-action rifles. Chief technician Salvatore Carcano at the Turin Army Arsenal developed the gun in 1890. It was initially called the Modello (model) 91 or simply M91.

The Carcano has a 457 m or 500 yds of effective firing range.

The Carcano Model 1891/38
The Carcano Model 1891/38 short rifle with scope used by Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate J.F. Kennedy

Most Italian troops used the M91 and its shorter-barrelled carbine form during World War One and World War Two. In addition, Italy produced the Type I Carcano rifle for the Japanese Empire before World War Two. 

Interestingly, Lee Harvey Oswald used a Carcano M38 to assassinate United States President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, on 22 November 1963.

3. Gewehr 98 (1898–1935)

The Gewehr 98 – also known as the Spanish Mauser – is a German bolt-action rifle made by Mauser. The gun fires cartridges from a five-round internal clip-loaded magazine. After 1935, the Gewehr 98 was replaced by the Karabiner 98k – a shorter weapon using the same basic design.

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The rifle features a 740 mm (29 in) long rifled barrel, two sling swivels, open front sights, and a curved tangent-type rear sight, known as the Lange Visier.

2. Mauser Model 1893 (1893–1958)

The Mauser Model 1893 is a bolt-action rifle called the Spanish Mauser. However, other countries adopted the model in different calibres, most notably the Ottoman Empire.

Mauser’s M1893 was a success, serving as a base for future innovations such as the Swedish Mauser and the renowned Gewehr 98 itself.

The rifle saw extensive service across several conflicts, including the Spanish–American War (1898) and the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939).

1. M1 Garand (1936–1957 as the Standard US Service Rifle)

The M1 Garand was the standard U.S. Army infantry rifle from 1936-1957. It was a semi-automatic rifle that General George S. Patton called “the greatest battle implement ever devised.” 

M1 Garand
A U.S. Marine training with a M31 HEAT antitank rifle grenade fired from his M1 rifle.

The weapon gave U.S. G.I.s a massive advantage in World War Two.

The M1 was semi-automatic and retained high accuracy. During this time, the German, Italian, and Japanese armies still issued bolt-action rifles as the standard for their infantry. Among the obvious advantages, the gun made the Japanese strategy of a “banzai charge” less compelling since bayonets and grenade launchers could also be attached to the M1.

The largest mobilized army in history produced millions of these rifles. During World War Two, the M1’s semi-automatic feature provided a significant firepower advantage to foot soldiers across the battlefields. The reduced recoil allowed the soldiers to shoot eight rounds as quickly as they pulled the trigger. 

So, although WW2 was eventually settled by a major atomic weapon, it’s important to remember that it was the humble rifle in the hands of millions of soldiers that actually won it.