In 1941, a rifle similar in appearance and function to the Remington 8/81 was submitted to the Ordnance Department for evaluation. It competed against various other rifles for the hope of adoption by the U.S. Army. The rifle was chambered in .30 Carbine and fired semi and full automatic from detachable magazines. This carbine would be known as the Savage Light Rifle*.
The history of this rifle begins in 1938, as the Chief of Infantry proposed the need for a suitable light rifle for support troops. The following criteria were proposed…
-semi-automatic fire was necessary and full-automatic fire was considered optional.
- magazine fed
- an effective range of at least 300 yards
- rifle weight with magazine and 20 rounds of ammunition not to surpass 5lbs
The proposal for this rifle was set aside until 1940 as the United States realized war in Europe was eminent. As the request for a new light rifle was approved by the Secretary of War on August 27th 1940, the task was set for the Chief of Ordnance to test and develop a suitable firearm. On May 1, 1941, the Ordnance Subcommittee reviewed several prototype rifles, one of which, built by the Savage Arms Corporation, closely resembled a Remington Model 8/81.
The Savage Light Rifle was delivered with 5, 10, 20, and 50 round magazines. It weighed 5lbs 10ozs, had a 15.6” barrel, and was made up of 83 parts. According to testing, it was slow to disassemble and reassemble, but performed well. Its tested accuracy was excellent at 100 and 300 yards.
A review of the Ordnance Department’s photographs reveals several fascinating things. The Savage Light Rifle may not utilize a Model 8/81 receiver, but its profile is very similar. The general shape, the ejection port, action tube, are all similar to Browning’s long recoil design. Study of the bolt group uncovers that the bolt, bolt carrier, bolt lock, ejector, firing pin, link, and extractor resemble modified Model 81 components. In fact the action spring assembly is nearly identical. While the fire control group is vastly different, it still uses a modified Model 8/81 hammer. The Light Rifle has a unique operating handle and two position flip peep sight mounted on top of the receiver.
Although the Savage Light Rifle and Remington 8/81 are both long recoil and look similar, they do differ. The Remington 8/81 has a recoil and buffer spring housed inside a barrel jacket surrounding the barrel. The Savage Light Rifle has its recoil and buffer spring housed in a recoil tube situated below the barrel through the forearm. Perhaps this was advantageous for barrel heat dissipation, ease of maintenance, or for reliability, but it is not known. What is known is that this rifle did not venture far beyond Aberdeen Proving Ground’s 10 phase test program. This program examined muzzle flash, accuracy, full automatic firing, endurance firing, performance under dusty conditions, disassembly, and recoil velocity amongst other criteria.
Firing tests were conducted from May 8th-31st 1941 with each prototype rifle given 3 days of evaluation. Interestingly a photograph from the Ordnance Department dated May 10th, 1941 states that the Savage’s bolt carrier was cracked. On June 11th a new magazine floorplate was used for retesting, but on June 16th it was determined that the Savage rifle (among others) was to be rejected for additional testing or consideration. As we know today, Winchester’s prototype, (eventually evolving into the M1 Carbine) won the trials, but few know a long recoil operated rifle, inspired by the design of John Browning made it into the hands of the U.S. Army.
If anyone has further information on the Savage Arms Corporation’s prototype Light Rifle, please contact Cam Woodall at firstname.lastname@example.org
Special thanks to Ian at www.forgottenweapons.com for photograph permission.
* U.S. Cal. .30 Carbine (1992). NRA Publications, Fairfax, VA.