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Book Review: U.S. Small Arms of World War II, by Bruce N. Canfield

U.S. Small Arms of World War II is Canfield’s massive expansion of his 1994 study, U.S. Infantry Weapons of World War II.
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U.S. Small Arms of World War II, by Bruce N. Canfield (ISBN: 978-1931464864, Andrew Mowbray Publishers, Inc., (800) 999–4697; Hardcover, 864 pages, 2,100+ color photos, historical photos, and illustrations, 2020, $95.00).

Bruce Canfield has literally written the books on U.S. military rifles and shotguns from Civil War through modern day with a particular focus on the two World Wars. Regardless of interest, Canfield’s writing style captures readers’ attention by telling the story behind the arms development and interlacing it with the all-so-important details to distinguish a parts gun from milsurp perfection. “Collector’s Notes,” a hallmark of many of the author’s books, allow for quick identification of key characteristics as do the numerous clear photographs in his many hardcover publications.

Published in 1994, U.S. Infantry Weapons of World War II, was the author’s first foray into providing concise, accurate information on a broad variety of weapons used by U.S. forces. The combat knives, handguns, rifles, carbines, submachine guns, machine guns, automatic rifles, bazookas, anti-tank rifles, flamethrowers, mortars, recoilless rifles, grenades, and their accessories carried by Army and Marine infantrymen were all given their due in that 290+ page publication. Canfield replicated this successful formula six years later with U.S. Infantry Weapons of the First World War.

The M1 Garand Rifle published at $95

Canfield's early work, The M1 Garand Rifle is still available for about $95.

U.S. Small Arms of World War II is Canfield’s massive expansion of the 1994 U.S. Infantry Weapons of World War II. At 864 pages, this massive tome is similar in size to The M1 Garand Rifle, is cover-priced at $95.99. While it covers the same subject matter as his publication of 26 years earlier, it is now in much greater detail. When you open the book for the first time, you will experience a tinge of excitement anticipating what lies inside.

And inside, you find more than 2,000 mostly color photographs with a heavy emphasis on period photos in original color or skillfully colorized. Absent, however, are the “Collector’s Notes” at the end of each chapter as is most discussion regarding accoutrements such as slings, ammo belts, pouches, and cleaning kits.

Instead, readers are treated to a historical background of each genre that becomes more specific regarding the development of the weapons as the timeline nears and enters WWII. Each account contains primary source information from the people who designed, adopted, built, and used the weapons. Canfield includes comments from other prominent researchers and collectors in each field.

The section on edged weapons could be a healthy stand-alone book. It provides a wealth of information on the development of US combat knives, bolos, and bayonets from the earliest days of mankind through WWI, the interwar years and into WWII. He focuses not just on the popular and widely published specimens, but also on government purchases of knives from the civilian market as well as those privately purchased from the home shops of M.H. Cole, Randall, Ek and in the theaters of combat.

This trend continues as he shifts toward firearms, covering not only the major players like the 1911 series handguns, 03 Springfields and M1s, but also the Super 38s, Winchester Model 70s, Remington 720s, Johnson rifles and auto rifles, Reisings, etc. The author provides more details in relation to production variation on weapons that were not as widely used/produced than he does to those more intimately covered in by other publications.

Canfield includes primary source documents that dispel some commonly held beliefs. For example, while it is widely believed that Marines landed on Guadalcanal armed with 1903 Springfield because the M1 was available in insufficient quantities, the author discovered communiqués from top Marine brass ordering M1s to be distributed to rear echelon troops first until perceived flaws in the design were corrected. This order was rescinded just days after the landings on Guadalcanal.

Also included are several examples of experimental firearms. Following the production of the FP-45 “Liberator” pistol, production of a stamped semi-automatic handgun was attempted, but never got past a handful of test models. Period photographs show evidence of a “Bushmaster” 1903 Springfield late in the war as well as a shortened, folding stock, and full-auto versions of the M1. Canfield covers other experiments of standard issue firearms that did eventually come to fruition late in the war and would likely have been more widely issued had the war lasted another year like the M1C and M1D sniper rifles, full-auto M2 Carbine, and carbines mounted with an infrared scope (T3).

U.S. Small Arms of World War II meets the standard of quality that we have all come to expect from Mr. Canfield. This does not provide the minutia of a single-subject book and should not be the sole resource if you are seeking to build a collection around a particular weapon. Regardless, it most definitely deserves a place on your bookshelf.

Perhaps the greatest information is contained in the dedication. At a time when our country is divided in ways seldom seen, Canfield asks us to look toward the example set by the Greatest Generation who united in a way never seen. That, alone, is worth having in the library — everything else is just the icing on the cake.— Ryan Roth

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