I recently released a video comparing the U.S. M14 service rifle to the FN FAL. In that video I discussed why I prefer the FAL over the M14 and why I believe it should have been our nations service rifle in 1959.
After WII the United States slowly came to the realization the M1 Garand was obsolete. Granted, during the war the M1 Garand was actually ahead of its time, but technology can change very quickly and what was once cutting edge can quickly become obsolete.
During WWII the Allies saw the development of rifles such as the German StG.44, and other firearms, which woke them up to the fact their infantry rifles needed to evolve and quickly. The newly formed NATO states entered into discussions about standardizing both weapons and calibers for obvious logistical reasons. Today we would see this as a no-brainer, but during WWII there were a diverse mixture of weapons and calibers in common use by allied nations which made logistics cumbersome at best. NATO sought to resolve that problem.
To make a long story short, our allies proposed NATO states agree on a single infantry rifle and caliber. The United States insisted on the adoption of a caliber that closely mimicked the performance of the 30-06 used in the M1 Garand. The Brits weren't very enthusiastic about this firm request as they were developing a .280 caliber to go along with their EM2 bullpup rifle, but they went along with the plan as did other NATO states.
The EM2 (seen above) was submitted for consideration as was the FN FAL (T48) rifle and of course the U.S. T44 (M14). Needless to say, there was much bickering back and forth on the rifle to be selected for common use. To seemingly find some common ground, the United States told her allies that we would adopt the same rifle as our allies if they would agree to adopt the T65 cartridge (now known at 7.62x51 NATO).
Every one agreed.
In 1955 the United States contracted with Harrington & Richardson to make 500 FAL rifles (T48) for testing. These rifles had a distinct look to them and were converted from the metric system to the Imperial system (inch pattern) and chambered the T65 7.62x51 cartridge. The T48 had a number of interesting features like an open top and stripper clip guide and a folding winter trigger guard.
Above a U.S. Marine tests the T48 during the trials.
In the end the United States decided to adopt the T44 (M14) and T65 (7.62x51) and ignore the promise we had made to our allies. The allies went on to adopt the FAL in some form or another, with Canada being the first to adopt the FAL as the C1A1. Germany was left out because FN refused to grant HK a license to manufacture the FAL in Germany. I guess they were still salty over the whole WWII thing. Even Britain, who desperately wanted to adopt a bullpup design, opted for the FAL as the L1A1 SLR thus keeping their promise to standardize.
It's interesting to note our NATO allies were in essence forced into adopting a full-power 7.62x51 caliber they didn't want while the U.S. turned its back on the FAL and adopted what would become the shortest lived primary infantry rifle in U.S. history. Whoops.
A U.S. Soldier firing the early prototype T44 (M14) in winter conditions.
What made the M14 such a poor infantry rifle? This 1968 report about the M14 is a good place to start.
The M14 was plagued with manufacturing problems. Barrels were out of spec, op rods weren't properly aligned with their guides, stocks weren't properly fit, chrome plating of the bore was often times too thick or inconsistent, and accuracy was abysmal. Worse, the more you shoot the M14 the worse the accuracy would become, and we're not talking about a lot of ammo being fired either. The wood stocks also had a nasty tendency to swell in the jungles of Vietnam causing significant accuracy issues.
While the FN FAL went on to win wide acceptance by most of the free world with some 90 nations adopting it, the U.S. was stuck with a problematic lemon that it would soon scrap in favor of a totally new weapon more in line with the "assault rifle" concept deployed by Germany in WWII. Six years after the M14's adoption the M16 would begin to replace it in military service. The FAL, on the other hand, continued on in military service with a good number of our allies until the 1980's and beyond.
Another funny story, if the complete failure of an infantry rifle can be considered "funny", is that the Army went on to spend millions of dollars and waste nearly two decades trying to accurize the M14 for use as a sniper rifle, the M21. The M21 program was a complete failure as well. The Army finally gave up and adopted a bolt action rifle based on the Model 700 called the M24, something the Marine Corps had been using for decades as the M40.
Today the M14 continues on in military service out of necessity. The United States has been fighting in the Middle East for 20 years and the 5.56x45 round has shown itself to be inadequate at range, so the old stocks of M14's were dusted off and pressed back into service. Many were restocked with synthetic furniture or placed in a heavy "EBR" chassis in an effort to turn it into something it's not -- a modern DMR or sniper rifle.
A U.S. Soldier using a M14 EBR rifle.
The SCAR program came about to find a more modern and effective solution to using old drill rifles for fighting in the Middle East. The M110 was another alternative fielded by the United States to replace the obsolete M14 in the field. Despite all of these efforts and programs, it's still common to find M14's being used by U.S. forces out of necessity.
A U.S. Marine firing the M110 rifle.
While the M14 still enjoys a cult like following among American civilian shooters, the reality is the rifle was easily one of the worst modern military rifles ever fielded by a major military power in the 20th century. You'll likely find no shortage of posts on discussion forums and in the comment section of YouTube videos by people claiming the M14 is the most accurate and reliable weapon ever designed by man, but people who actually shoot them a lot know the truth.
I'll sign off with a few quotes from Lt. Col. Chandler of the USMC who was in charge of various marksmanship and sniping programs in the Marine Corps.
“Remember that the US Army struggled for more than twenty years to transform the M14 into a sniper type weapon. The Army finally abandoned all attempts to salvage the M14 rifle. Continued use of the M14 as anything other than a drill rifle is better described as a DISASTER. The M14 is old and has never been more than a modified M1 Garand.“
“As we discuss the costs of bringing scoped M14s onto the line in large quantities, allow me another digression. The M14 is a bitch to keep in tune, and an untuned M14, no matter who did the accurizing is about as accurate as a thrown rock. Unless the M14 is continually babied it will not retain accuracy. Imagine the hardships and brutalities a scoped M14 will experience as a DM weapon in combat. No M14 ever built will stay accurately zeroed and tight group shooting under field conditions.” ~Lt. Colonel Chandler, USMC