When looking throughout military history, it is not difficult to compile a list of the top ten military rifles used in combat. A number of military weapons have stood the test of time, including the rifle. A few listed here would undoubtedly make anyone’s top ten list, but some may differ based on performance, length of time in service or an individual’s opinion. As battlefield tactics evolved over the last 100 years, so did the rifle; and to this day, the rifle remains a primary piece in every modern day army throughout the world.
The Armed Forces History Museum in Largo, FL has a number of these top ten rifles on display in the museum. The Firearms and Ordnance Gallery houses an impressive collection of a variety of weapons representing all eras of the military. The power housed in this room alone is incredible.
10. Sturmgewehr 44 – Semi or Fully Automatic Assault Rifle
This assault rifle was the German’s answer to the Soviet Union’s automatic weapons. The Sturmgewehr 44 had a shorter 7.92mm round which allowed soldiers to carry adequate ammunition for a rifle which provided effective automatic fire. This assault rifle was introduced towards the end of World War II, but was used in post-1945 conflicts throughout the world. The StG-44 was 7.92 x 33mm caliber rifle that could fire 500 rounds per minute at a muzzle velocity of 2,133 feet/second.
The Sturmgewehr 44 was a cutting edge design that paved the road for automatic assault rifles. Had it been produced sooner, it is speculated it could have turned the tide for the Germans.
9. Steyr Aug – Semi or Fully Automatic Bull-Pup Assault Rifle
Introduced in 1977, Austrian Steyr Aug had an advanced, space-age design that unfortunately worked against it. In addition to being light, the barrel, receiver and action on the Steyr Aug was located in the back of the stock, as opposed to the front, which made the weapon compact and easy to handle. This rifle also featured an interchangeable barrel system and a transparent magazine. The operator could also choose between left or right shell ejections. The Steyr Aug was a 5.56 x 45mm caliber with a cartridge capacity of 30 and 42 rounds
Its muzzle velocity averaged 3,084 feet/second and its rate of fire was 650 rounds/minute. The Steyr Aug was both reliable and accurate and troops that used it, loved it. Despite its unappealing esthetics, it is a well-respected weapon.
8. M16 – Semi or Fully Automatic Assault Rifle
In its early combat trials (early 1960s), a gun jamming problem surfaced on the M16. Once corrected, the M16 proved to be an outstanding weapon, due in part to its incredible accuracy, ease of handling and dependability. The M16 was designed as a lightweight modern assault rifle to replace the M1 and the M14.
The M16 was constructed using a lighter metal alloy and plastic, had a simple gas reload system and used 5.56mm ammo, which allowed soldiers to carry twice what they previously could handle with the 7.62mm rounds. The M16 5.56 x 44mm caliber had a 20 to 30 round cartridge capacity with an average muzzle velocity of 3,281 feet/second. The M16 was capable of firing 700 to 950 rounds per minute.
7. M14 – Semi or Fully Automatic Rifle
At the end of WWII, the American infantry platoons were carrying a number of different weapons. Some carried as many as four, which meant four different ammos as well. At this point, the US Army chose to develop a single weapon capable of fulfilling a number of different roles. What evolved was the M14, a rugged, accurate NATO 7.62mm round rifle with incredible stopping power. Fielded in 1957, this rifle didn’t see any major action until Vietnam, at which time it became apparent the rifle and its ammunition was too heavy. Eventually, it was replaced with a lighter M16 though the original is still sometimes used as a sniper rifle. This post-World War II rifle was capable of firing 700-750 rounds/minute and had a muzzle velocity of 2,799 feet/second. The M14 is still being used today by the American forces and is sometimes preferred over the M16.
6. 1903 Springfield – Bolt-Action Rifle
After the Spanish-American War, the US modified the design of the German Mauser and created an incredibly accurate, magazine-fed rifle – the 1903 Springfield. This bolt-action rifle swiftly gained notoriety as being both an accurate and powerful firearm. US Marines used the Springfield rifle in 1918 and were able during the Battle of Belleau Wood. The rifle allowed them to cut off enemy attack from 7 – 800 yards away. The 1903 Springfield saw combat in WWII, the Korean War and in Vietnam where it was mainly used as a sniper rifle.
The Springfield had a 7.62 x 63mm caliber, with a muzzle velocity average of 2,700 feet/second. The cartridge capacity was five rounds and its rate of fire was 10 rounds/minute. The 1903 Springfield is still used today by the American forces.
5. FN FAL – Semi or Fully Automatic Rifle
The design on this Belgium rifle was inspired by the Sturmgewehr 44, using the same intermediate round used on the StG 44. Not long after, however, NATO requirements called for a longer 7.62mm. The FN Fal was altered creating a new heavy hitting rifle with a powerful punch and potent kick. This rifle was used extensively throughout the Cold War by over 50 different countries. The Australian army also used the FN FAL in Vietnam and the Israeli troops The FN FAL was used by the Australian army in Vietnam, the Israeli troops during the Six-Day War and also by both sides when fighting erupted over the Falkland Islands. The 7.62 x 51mm cal of the FN FAL provided a cartridge capacity of 20 rounds, a muzzle velocity of 2,700 ft. per second (average) and could fire 650 to 700 rounds/minute. The FN Fal is the second most produced assault rifle ever.
4. Lee-Enfield SMLE – Bolt-Action Rifle
The Lee-Enfield was a standard infantry weapon used by the British troops beginning in WWI through the Suez Canal crisis of 1956. In all, the British used this bolt-action rifle for over 60 years. Along with an alarming high rate of fire, this bolt-action rifle was reliable and accurate. The magazine on the Lee-Enfield SMLE carried ten bullets, which was the largest capacity available on any battlefield rifle produced in the first half of the 20th century. The weapon had a short bolt-action that cocked on closing and a muzzle cap which prevented dirt from entering and clogging the muzzle. The better trained soldier could use the Lee-Enfield to perform what was known as the ‘mad minute’. The mad minute required 30 rounds hitting a target 200 meters away in one minute or less. This high volume rivals even today’s modern semi-automatic weapons.
The Lee-Enfield SMLE was a 7.7 x 56mm caliber with a 20 round cartridge capacity. Its muzzle velocity averaged 2,438 feet per second at a firing rate of 15-20 rounds per minute. Members of the Taliban are still using the Lee-Enfield today in Afghanistan.
3. Mauser K98k Carbine – Bolt Action Rifle
The Mauser K98k first appeared towards the end of the 19th century and represented a combination of a number of modernizations featured on previously produced rifles. The K98k had an incredible bolt action that is currently still the main basis for many of the modern hunting rifles. This Mauser K98k Carbine also featured smokeless powder and clips which were able to be fed into magazines. The first 98 model was utilized successfully during WWI and by the 1930s, when Germany began rearming, the Mauser K98k was upgraded to make the weapon lighter and easier to sight and shoot. This rifle was used by millions throughout the two largest wars of all time. The K98k had a 5 round cartridge capacity, a muzzle velocity that averaged 2,822 feet/second and could perform at a rate of 10-15 rounds/minute. Though eventually antiquated by the introduction of automatic weapons, this 7.92 x 57mm rifle’s reputation has earned itself a place on this top ten list.
In 1936, the US Army began using the M1 Garand rifle. This semi-automatic weapon proved to be a tough and heavy battle rifle when it entered combat five years later. General George S. Patton felt the Garand was one of the greatest battle assets ever devised. Though possibly overstated, no doubt the M1 Garand was one of the initial semi-automatic rifles used successfully and extensively throughout the military. The M1 Garand dominated the WWII battlefield. The M1 Garand was taken out of service in the early part of the 60s but not before an estimated production of 6.25 million. This semi-automatic rifle had a 7.62 x 63mm caliber, a cartridge capacity of eight rounds, an average muzzle velocity of 2,438 feet/second and could fire 30 rounds per minute.
The M1 Garand is often noted as the rifle that won WWII due in part to its knockdown power, reliability, accuracy and easy maintenance.
1. AK-47 – Semi or Fully Automatic Assault Rifle
The AK-47 is without a doubt the #1 rifle in the history of weapons. Well over 75 million of these assault rifles have been manufactured throughout the world. It is believed the AK-47 has inflicted more lethal shots than any other produced weapon. The AK-47s design was based on the German Sturmgewehr chambering an intermediate round and using stamped parts, making it both easy and inexpensive to produce. The AK-47 also proved to be easy to maintain and could survive just about every type of condition it was thrown into. The amount of fire (600 rounds per minute) compensate for its average accuracy. The AK-47 has a 7.62 x 39mm caliber with a cartridge capacity of 30 and an average muzzle velocity of 2,329 feet/second.
The AK-47 is the most reliable assault rifle every made. In fact it can be speculated that 200 years from now someone will still be carrying this assault rifle.
This list of top ten military rifles used in combat could easily be disputed based on a number of reasons, but no one can dispute the powerful impact these rifles have had on the history of the world’s military.