Though Winchester rifles and shotguns have always been popular with the troops — sometimes even becoming an issued standard weapon like the “Trench Sweeper” model of the Model 1897 shotgun — the company has also done its duty when the nation called, putting its expertise and experience to work producing guns from other sources to ensure victory.
As World War II heated up in Europe, the U.S. military was gearing up for what appeared to be an inevitable American entry into the conflict. Troops would need large numbers of the new M1 Garand rifle, and production couldn’t keep up with orders. In 1939, Winchester was given a small order and one set of tooling to see if it could produce the rifle. When the company proved that it could meet the orders, Winchester began lending a hand with the Garand.
The company was no stranger to building military guns, having produced 750,000 British-designed Enfield rifles for both British and American troops during World War I. Called the Model 39 internally, the Winchester M1 Garand began regular production in 1941. Winchester produced over 513,000 of the famous semi-auto service rifles. American Gen. George Patton called the M1 “the greatest battle implement ever devised” and Winchester built a special M1 for “Old Blood and Guts” himself.
Interestingly, the tooling used by Winchester for M1 production was used by Beretta to produce M1s for NATO use in the 1950s. The Beretta version of the Springfield gun produced on Winchester’s tooling was known as the Model 1952.
In addition to M1 production, Winchester designed the M1 Carbine. It originated as a design by Jonathan “Ed” Browning, brother to John Moses Browning, and eventually incorporated design elements from many sources. A rush need for an intermediate rifle propelled the gun into production, and the M1 Carbine was a successful light rifle, first delivered to U.S. troops in 1942 and serving with them through the Vietnam War.
Winchester built 828,000 of the over 6.5 million M1 Carbines produced, and the rifle remains popular with shooters around the world.