Copyright 2008, all rights reserved by John Spangler and the Utah Gun Collectors Association


Cleaning and Repair of U.S. Military Small Arms
Take care of what you got--- Your life depends on it!


Willie and Joe, doing what soldiers do, as drawn by
the famous war correspondent Bill Mauldin.
While they may not worry much about their uniforms or grooming, they make sure their weapons are clean!

From the earliest days of the U.S. military, small arms have seen rough use on the battlefield, in camp and barracks.  Soldiers at the individual level perform routine cleaning and minor repairs.  More complicated maintenance or repairs are performed by unit level armorers, and depot level maintenance can rebuild a weapon to “as new” condition.

Here are some of the many items used to keep U.S. military weapons ready for use, return them to service in the field, or totally rebuild them.

This is just a small sample of the wide range of items that were used, but they give a good idea of the many different items needed to "Keep 'em fighting!"



From a display at the January, 2008, Utah Gun Collectors Association Gun Show.

INDIVIDUAL LEVEL
These are the tools and supplies used by the individual soldier, often carried with the weapon, or in their field gear.  Some are shared among several men in a unit.  Mostly these are basic cleaning supplies and minor replacement parts needing no special skills to use.

UNIT LEVEL
Used at the company, regiment, or post level these involve more complicated repairs or replacement of parts.  Usually specially trained armorers and specialized tools are needed, and an armory or weapons repair location.  The broken weapon would be turned in and a spare would be issued and eventually the repaired weapon would be returned to service.

DEPOT LEVEL
Often called “Arsenal overhaul” these are major repairs requiring even more complicated tools and inspection gages, and more specialized skills.  These are often industrial type operations where weapons are shipped in from a wide geographic area, and broken down to individual parts for thorough inspection, repair, refinishing and reassembly.  The repaired weapons are usually rebuilt to “as new” standards and then placed into the supply system to fill requisitions from various units.Arms repaired at the Depot level are usually marked to indicate the activity that did the work.  The Ogden Arsenal and later the Tooele Ordnance Depot were depot level activities located in Utah.


We will review Individual Level Tools from various time periods, followed by Unit Level and Depot Level items.

INDIVIDUAL LEVEL
These are the tools and supplies used by the individual soldier, often carried with the weapon, or in their field gear.  Some are shared among several men in a unit.  Mostly these are basic cleaning supplies and minor replacement parts needing no special skills to use.

Flintlock Era (1795-1850)
Individual Tools-

Percussion Era (1842-1865)
Individual Tools-

Mainspring vise
Spare flint
Lead pad to hold flint
Wood tompion (plug) for barrel
Worm for cleaning

Mainspring vise
Nipple wrench/screw drivers
Band spring and tumbler punch
Tompion plug to seal the muzzle
Cleaning brush and thong (for cleaning   
        breechloading carbines)

 

Early Cartridge Era (1865-1892)
Individual Tools-


Krag Era (1894-1910)
Individual Tools-
Various screw drivers/combination tools
Band spring and tumbler punch
Ruptured cartridge extractors
Mainspring vise
3 section cleaning rod for butt of carbines
Screw driver/combination tool
3 section cleaning rod for rifle
& carbine butt
Oiler for rifle & carbine butt

 

World War I Era (1910-1930)
Individual Tools-

World War II Era (1930-1950)
Individual Tools- Rifle
Spare Parts Container and spare parts
Oiler and thong case for rifle butt (brass)
Thong and brush “pull through”
Screw driver/combination tool
3 section cleaning rod and case
Screw driver/combination tools for Garand
(M3 and M3A1)
Pouch with tools (used before butt trap was added to the M1. Garand)
Oiler and thong case for rifle butt (plastic)
M10 combination tool/sectional cleaning rod

 

Some cleaning and lubricating fluids and patches 1940-1990.

World War II Era (1942-1950)
Individual Tools- Carbine
Post World War II Era
(1950-1990)
Individual Tools-



Trigger spring tool
Bolt disassembly tool
Gas piston nut wrench


   M14 combination tool/sectional cleaning rod
Oiler for M14 rifle butt

Cleaning rod and brushes for M16 and pouch


UNIT LEVEL
Used at the company, regiment, or post level these involve more complicated repairs or replacement of parts.  Usually specially trained armorers and specialized tools are needed, and an armory or weapons repair location.  The broken weapon would be turned in and a spare would be issued and eventually the repaired weapon would be returned to service.


World War II Pacific Theater small arms repair shop in a jungle hut. Note the large stack of rifles at the left side by the kneeling soldier, and the pile of mortars and machine guns in front of him. Are you surprised that most military guns have some "mixed parts"?

World War I Era (1910-1930)
Unit Level Tools Model


1908 Company Tool Kit

 

World War I Era (1910-1930)
Unit Level Tools

  Model 1910 Arms Repair Chest
Tools and spare parts for M1903 rifles
(Also used for limited repairs to pistols and web gear.)
[A similar Arms Repair Chest Model of 1917 was made for M1917 rifles]

 

World War I Era (1910-1930)
Unit Level Tools

M1912 Squad cleaning kit for .45 automatics
Screwdrivers, cleaning rods, brushes,
spare parts and lubricant.

 

World War II Era (1940-1950)
Unit Level Tools

M5 Tool box with spare parts and tools for M1903 rifles.


DEPOT LEVEL
Often called “Arsenal overhaul” these are major repairs requiring even more complicated tools and inspection gages, and more specialized skills.  These are often industrial type operations where weapons are shipped in from a wide geographic area, and broken down to individual parts for thorough inspection, repair, refinishing and reassembly.  The repaired weapons are usually rebuilt to “as new” standards and then placed into the supply system to fill requisitions from various units.Arms repaired at the Depot level are usually marked to indicate the activity that did the work.  The Ogden Arsenal and later the Tooele Ordnance Depot were depot level activities located in Utah.

DEPOT LEVEL MARKINGS

Arms overhauled (or inspected) at the Depot level were usually marked to identify where the work was done. Some guns show marks where they were rebuilt several times.  Here are the most common post WW2 Depot marks:

AA

Augusta Arsenal, Augusta, GA

AHA

    [unidentified possible USMC activity]

BA

Benecia Arsenal, Benecia, CA

MR

Mount Rainier Ordnance Depot, Tacoma, WA

LE

Letterkenny Ordnance Depot, Chambersburg, PA

OG

Ogden Arsenal, Ogden, UT

RA

P – Raritan Arsenal, Metuchen, NJ

RIA

Rock Island Arsenal, Rock Island, IL

RRA

Red River Arsenal, Texarkana, TX

SA

Springfield Armory, Springfield, MA

SAA

San Antonio Arsenal, San Antonio, TX

Std Prod

Standard Products, Port Clinton, OH

TE

Tooele Ordnance Depot, Tooele, UT

3GM - K

     [unidentified WW2 era]

 

World War I Era (1910-1930) DEPOT LEVEL TOOLS
Wrold War II era
DEPOT LEVEL TOOLS



M1903 “Bore Gage 20-19-1 with container”
Kit of 10 tools with handle
Trigger pull inspection weights
[missing the rod]

 

World War II and later DEPOT LEVEL TOOLS

U.S. ORDNANCE KIT, GAUGES, ARMORER'S SMALL ARMS (right)
This metal box, similar to a bank safe deposit box, has two wooden trays with cutouts to hold the various inspection gauges needed by ordnance personnel to work on most of the .22 through .50 caliber small arms in service circa WW2. There were minor variations in the contents over the years.

Tools on the far left include a chambering reamer for the M1903 Springfield, with a rear sight windage knob tool above and a Front sight base repair tool above.
Left Center there are toos for removing and installing the front sight on the M1 carbine, and a M1 carbine adjustable rear sight removal/installation tool.
Top center are two gages for the M1 Garand and a tool for the M14 flash hider.

 

Manuals on cleaning and care of weapons-


   This is a small sample of the dozens (or hundreds?) of different manuals issued for use at various levels. 
Prior to 1855, no manuals were published for individual use, only a single “Ordnance Manual” book for the Ordnance officer. Repair manuals for unit and depot level bagan to appear after WW1, reflecting the greater complexity of arms. During and after WW2, even more detailed manuals were provided as numerous depots begain to overhaul weapons instead of just a few well established arsenals.

This field sketch of a Marine cleaning his rifle reminds us of the importance of cleaning and repair to keepingour troops ready to fight in the field.


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Revised 2/8/2008