Weaponry, Marine Corps

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Weaponry, Marine Corps. The Marine Corps from its beginnings was smaller in numbers than other services and was often thrown into action against larger forces. This fact led to a constant search for superior firepower. The result was adoption of more effective weapons ahead of both enemies and sister services.

During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Marines were armed with British and French muskets of the day. These were variations known as “sea service” models. They were shorter for use in tight spaces aboard ship and aloft, with brass fittings, and the barrel and lock were tin‐plated to resist corrosion from salt air and spray. Use of these arms continued well into the nineteenth century, with new developments such as percussion cap locks replacing flint ignition and rifled barrels replacing smoothbores. The Hall breech‐loading rifle was used in a 1832 campaign against pirates in Sumatra. Early models of Colt revolving rifles were used in the Seminole Wars of the 1830s.

During the Civil War, in addition to obsolete Springfield rifled muskets, Spencer seven‐shot repeating rifles (tin‐plated for sea service) were used, as well as single‐shot Sharps rifles. After the Civil War, many breech‐loading and repeating rifles were tried, including the Remington rolling block and the five‐shot Remington‐Lee bolt action; the army's single‐shot “trapdoor” Springfield was finally adopted. The multibarreled, hand‐cranked Gatling gun provided additional firepower during the 1870s to 1890s.

The development in the 1880s of smokeless powder of greater power enabled the firing of smaller (6mm to 8mm or .24‐ to .31‐caliber) bullets at much higher velocities and thus greater ranges. The Marine Corps adopted the Winchester‐Lee “straight‐pull” five‐shot rifle and the Colt‐Browning machine gun in 1895, both firing 6mm cartridges. Marines fighting in the Spanish‐American War (1898) were armed with these weapons. In 1900, the accurate .30‐caliber Krag‐Jorgenson replaced the Winchester‐Lee. At this time, the Marine Corps began to stress rifle marksmanship. All Marines were expected to achieve a high order of skill, a policy that has continued to the present.

Marine aviators began training in 1911 on Curtiss pusher biplanes; by 1913, an aircraft unit with Curtiss seaplanes was integrated into the Advance Base Force as the first air‐ground team. Every overseas deployment since has been as an integrated ground and aviation team. In 1916, the Marines adopted the King armored car, armed with a light machine gun. The first of the armored vehicles adopted for regular service, it continued in use until 1921.

Marine rearmament began in the early twentieth century with the army M1903 .30‐caliber rifle replacing the Krag in 1912. In the constant search for superior firepower, the Benét‐Mercié light machine gun was adopted as the navy Mark II. The Lewis light machine gun, rejected by the army, was adopted by the Marines in 1916. When the Marines joined the U.S. Army's Second Division in France during World War I, they left their Lewis guns behind and were armed like the rest of the division with French Hotchkiss heavy machine guns and Chauchat light machine guns. After the armistice, these were replaced by the new Browning M1917 heavy machine gun and the M1918 Browning automatic rifle (BAR). The Brownings continued in use through the Korean War—one to three BARs in each squad.

Seeking a firepower edge for close quarters fighting, Marines adopted the Thompson submachine gun, firing .45‐caliber pistol cartridges, in the early 1920s. They were the first service to adopt the submachine gun as a regular weapon.

The Springfield Model 1903 rifle continued in use until early in World War II, when it was replaced by the eight‐shot Garand M‐1 rifle. The M‐1 was replaced by the improved twenty‐shot M‐14 rifle in the early 1960s. The M‐14, which fired the new NATO standard 7.65mm cartridge, in turn, was replaced during the Vietnam War by the lightweight M‐16 rifle in 5.56mm or .223 caliber.

By the early 1990s, the Belgian‐designed M249 squad automatic rifle (SAW) in 5.56mm was adopted to fulfill the role of the BAR and the automatic M‐14. Shortly thereafter, also from Belgium's Fabrique Nationale, the M240 general‐purpose machine gun in 7.65mm replaced the M60. The Mark 19 40mm automatic grenade launcher, developed by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, added to the firepower.

Sniper rifles included an M1903 equipped with an 8‐power Unertl telescope used in World War II and Korea. In Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War, a bolt action M‐40 rifle with telescope was used; in the Gulf War, a Barrett 30‐pound M‐82 .50‐caliber semiautomatic rifle for very long range work was used with great effect.

A weapon unique to the Marine Corps is the amphibian tractor—or landing vehicle tracked—introduced in World War II for ship‐to‐shore movement and to cross coral barrier reefs in the Pacific Islands. All carried machine guns, with some variants armed with cannon. Modern versions as the LVTP‐5 of the Vietnam War and the LVTP‐7 of the Gulf War continue in their original purpose and are used as troop carriers inland.

Also unique to the Corps from the late 1980s is the light armored vehicle (LAV), an eight‐wheeled armored car carrying an infantry squad and mounting a 25mm automatic gun.

Heavy supporting weapons, artillery, mortars, antitank weapons, and tanks were procured from the army. Here, too, the U.S. Marine Corps often participated in their development.
[See also Armored Vehicles; Army Combat Branches; Marine Corps, U.S.; Weaponry, Air Force; Weaponry, Army; Weaponry, Naval; Weaponry, Evolution of.]


Robert Debs Heinl , Soldiers of the Sea: The U.S. Marine Corps, 1775–1962, 1962.
Robert H. Rankin , Small Arms of the Sea Services, 1972.
W. H. B. Smith and and Joseph E. Smith , Small Arms of the World, 10th rev. ed. 1973.
Edwin H. Simmons , The United States Marines: The First Two Hundred Years, 1775–1975, 1976.
Allan R. Millett , Semper Fidelis: The History of the United States Marine Corps, 1980.
Norman A. and and Roy F. Chandler , Death from Afar: Marine Corps Sniping, Vols. 1–3, 1992–94.

Brooke Nihart