American Rifleman - July 2019 - 52

MODEL OF 1941 JOHNSON
LIGHT MACHINE GUN (BIPOD FOLDED)

MODEL OF 1941 JOHNSON
SEMI-AUTOMATIC RIFLE

The inventor of the Johnson rifle, Melvin Maynard
Johnson, Jr., was a Boston attorney from a prosperous and
politically connected New England family. Johnson was
also a Marine Corps Reserve captain who had a passion
for firearms. He was a vocal critic of the newly adopted
M1 Garand, which he believed was a badly flawed design.
Johnson developed a recoil-operated firearm mechanism
he believed to be superior to the Garand's gas-operated
system. He began refining the mechanism for use in a
semi-automatic rifle and a light machine gun. After raising
funds to have a couple of prototypes built, Johnson was
able to persuade the U.S. Army Ordnance Dept. to hold an
informal test of his rifle in June 1938.
The Johnson rifle performed relatively well in the tests
but, like any arm still being developed, a number of weaknesses were noted. After enumerating the problems, the
Ordnance Dept. politely declined any further interest in the
Johnson rifle and considered the matter closed. Not one to
take no for an answer, Johnson was able to use his family's
political influence to persuade friendly U.S. congressmen
to hold hearings to determine if the Johnson rifle should
be adopted as the standard American military service rifle
instead of the Garand, which was undergoing its own set
of problems at the time. The gambit failed. In order for the
Johnson rifle to have had even a remote chance of replacing
the Garand, it would have to have been demonstrably and
unquestionably superior. It wasn't.
Johnson turned to other nations in an attempt to
market his semi-automatic rifle and light machine gun.
After being turned down by several countries, Johnson
was finally able to interest representatives of the
Netherlands Purchasing Commission (NPC) in his rifle and
light machine gun. The NPC needed modern guns to arm
the colonial forces in the Dutch East Indies, which was
the source of much of the world's supply of rubber, oil
and coffee.
On Aug. 19, 1940, the NPC placed an initial contract
for 10,200 Johnson semi-automatic rifles and 515 Johnson
light machine guns along with the necessary spare parts
and accessories. Both were to be chambered for the
.30-'06 Sprg. cartridge. The Dutch order was certainly
welcome news to the struggling Johnson Automatics, Inc.,
organization. A subsequent contract for an additional
10,200 Johnson rifles was placed by the NPC for a total of
20,400 rifles ordered by the Dutch. Since the Johnson organization had no production facilities, an idle textile plant
in Cranston, R.I., was acquired and the "Cranston Arms

52

JULY 2019

Company" was formed. Both the rifle and light machine
gun to be made under the Dutch contracts were designated
as the "Model of 1941."
A signature feature of Johnson's recoil-operated
mechanism was that the barrel moved forward and backward as the gun was fired. That made the use of a standard
bayonet problematic, as the added weight would not permit
the barrel to recoil properly. To get around the problem,
Johnson designed a very lightweight triangular-blade,
all-metal bayonet that allowed the rifle to fire with the
bayonet attached. However, this resulted in a bayonet that
had little utility on, or off, the rifle, but it did satisfy the
design parameters, which called for a bayonet.
The Johnson rifles were serially numbered in three separate blocks-number only with no letter prefix, "A" prefix
and "B" prefix. The rifles were not assembled in sequential
serial number order. Interestingly, most of the parts were
also serially numbered. but according to factory records,
there was no attempt made to match the serial number of
the parts with the number on the receiver.
A total of 21,988 Model of 1941 Johnson rifles were manufactured by the time production ceased, which was 1,588
rifles more than the Dutch ordered. It was not unusual for
manufacturers to make a number of arms beyond the contracted sum in the order to have additional guns available
for other customers or in the event the original contractee
decided to acquire more guns. In this case, the Johnson
company sold 1,000 Model 1941 rifles in 7x57 mm Mauser to
the government of Chile, which accounted for almost twothirds of the overruns.
Not long after the initial shipments of the Johnson
rifles and light machine guns left the Rhode Island
plant, the East Indies fell to the Japanese onslaught,
and the balance of the guns was embargoed in the
United States. Only about 3,000 Johnson rifles had been
shipped prior to the embargo.
A unique feature of the Johnson rifle and light machine
gun was the fact that the barrels could be quickly and
easily removed. This attracted the attention of the U.S.
Marine Corps, which was then in the process of organizing
its fledging parachute units. The Marines, though, showed
more interest in the Johnson Light Machine Gun than the
rifle, and purchased a limited number of the machine guns
from the NPC's embargoed inventory.
The Marine 1st Parachute Battalion was preparing to
depart for overseas combat action in the Solomon Islands
accompanied by a variety of arms, including 87 Model
AMERICAN RIFLEMAN



American Rifleman - July 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Rifleman - July 2019

Contents
American Rifleman - July 2019 - Cover1
American Rifleman - July 2019 - Cover2
American Rifleman - July 2019 - 1
American Rifleman - July 2019 - Contents
American Rifleman - July 2019 - 3
American Rifleman - July 2019 - 4
American Rifleman - July 2019 - 5
American Rifleman - July 2019 - 6
American Rifleman - July 2019 - 7
American Rifleman - July 2019 - 8
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American Rifleman - July 2019 - Cover3
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