Johnson rifle
Country of origin

United States


Johnson Automatics, Inc.


Melvin Johnson

Year(s) designed


Production began


Production ended


Number built

Approximately 70,000

Weapon type

Semi-automatic rifle


.30-06 Springfield
7×57mm Mauser (Chilean variant)
.270 Winchester


Short-recoil, rotating bolt

Overall length

45.9 inches (116.5 centimeters)

Barrel length

22 inches (55.9 centimeters)


9.5 pounds (4.31 kilograms)

Magazine/Cylinder capacity

10-round internal rotary magazine

Used by

United States, the Netherlands

The M1941 Johnson rifle, nicknamed Betsy by its creator, is an American rifle known for unsuccessfully competing against the M1 Garand.


The rifle was designed by Melvin Johnson, who was known for creating some rather oddball firearms. In the 1930s, he heavily campaigned for his rifle to be adopted by the US Army; however, the US Army rejected his rifle in favor of the M1 Garand that was currently being used. Around the 1940s, the Netherlands ordered these rifles for use in the Dutch East Indies, but only a few were delivered before the Japanese invaded.

By that time, the US Army found itself in dire need of a fast-firing modern rifle, and acquired a few samples of the Johnson rifle from the Dutch East Indies for their use. In all accounts, the Johnson performed acceptably in combat with the Marines. Rifle #A0009 was given to USMC Captain Robert H. Dunlap, who carried it with him in many battles and sang praise of the weapon later on, even going so far to retain and display his weapon until his death. Despite numerous requests from the USMC to have Johnson's rifle adopted, it unfortunately lacked the support of US Army Ordnance, who had already invested in the M1 and its improved gas operating system, which had just gone into full production at the time.

In spite of that, Johnson managed to successfully sell small quantities of his machine gun to US Armed Forces, which were used by various units such as the para-marines and the Army's First Special Service Force. The rifle ended production in 1945.

Design DetailsEdit

The Johnson is a simple, semi-automatic rifle with a few ingenious features. Early variants of the rifle had no bayonet lugs or an option for a bolt hold-open, whether it be an automatic or manual hold-open. The end of the barrel has a few indentations which fit the multiple locking lugs on the bolt. The rifle uses a short-recoil system to cycle its action, along with a rotating bolt with eight locking lugs. When fired, the barrel and bolt move a short distance rearward until the pressure in the chamber dropped and the bullet left the barrel.

Once the pressure dropped, the barrel stops against a shoulder while the bolt continued rearward under the momentum created by the weapon's recoil, locking the bolt in the process. A cam arrangement would then unlock the bolt and continue the operating cycle. The rifle's operating system had some advantages over the existing M1 Garand's operating system, but had its own flaws as well; the reciprocating barrel resulted in excessive vertical shot dispersion, and had a tendency to malfunction when a bayonet was affixed onto the barrel.

When a bayonet thrust was used, the motion of the thrust would create stress on the barrel, wearing it down and damaging the rifle due to the complex movements of the barrel. Unfortunately, these problems with the rifle's barrel was never fully rectified during its production life. The rifle has a 10-round internal rotary magazine, loaded from the right of the weapon via a trapdoor. Cartridges were loaded into the rifle one at a time, or through the use of a five-round stripper clip sourced from the M1903 Springfield.

The rifle was also not meant to be field stripped, as Johnson felt that the rifle should have hardly anything done to it in the field. In spite of Johnson's idea, it is still possible to field strip the weapon, but it is rather challenging to do so due to the bolt's design and there being a number of small parts on the rifle that can get lost in the process.



Argentinian copy.

Johnson auto-carbine

Prototype design for the Argentinian military that ultimately fell through.