Though technology has greatly improved in the last 100 years, rifles remain the primary tool of war. Here are the seven deadliest rifles of the last 100 years.
No matter how much technology had advanced and no matter how many new weapons appear on the battlefield, war still often comes down to fighting between infantrymen in the mud.
An infantryman’s best friend is his rifle and a good rifle is often the difference between life and death on the battlefield. Good rifles tend to hang around for decades with only minor upgrades and modifications, while the bad ones tend to fade away.
It should come as no surprise then, that the rifles on this list have been in use for extremely long periods of time and have appeared on battlefields all over the world.
Read on to learn all about the deadliest rifles of the last 100 years
Adopted by the British Army in 1895 and firing the .303 British cartridge, the Lee-Enfield was the first rifle used by the British designed to use smokeless powder. Combined with a 10-round detachable magazine and eventually modified to accept five round stripper clips, the Lee-Enfield quickly gained a reputation for being able to deliver extremely rapid fire in the hands of a trained marksman (the British Army standard at the time was a minimum of 15 hits on a 12″ circle at 300 yards in one minute).
In many ways, the Lee-Enfield rifle became a symbol of British Colonial rule and are still often found in large numbers in former British colonies. Though few armies still use the Lee-Enfield for front line service, they are still quite popular among reserve units, police forces, and civilian sportsmen.
With over 17,000,000 rifles of all variants produced, the Lee-Enfield was a fixture of the British Empire for decades and was used (sometimes by both sides) in dozens of wars, rebellions, and other conflicts during its heyday. It first drew blood during the Second Boer War and also saw action during World War I, the Irish War of Independence, the Irish Civil War, World War II, the Indo-Pakistani Wars, the Malayan Emergency, the Korean War, the Suez Crisis, and numerous colonial conflicts in Africa and Asia. It was also used extensively by the Mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Though it is not nearly as common as it used to be, small numbers of Lee-Enfield rifles are still seeing action in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria during the ongoing wars there.
Described by General George Patton as “the greatest battle implement ever devised,” the M1 Garand was the primary rifle carried by American GIs during World War II and Korea. Chambered in the venerable .30-06 Springfield cartridge, the semi-automatic M1 Garand gave the Americans a significant firepower advantage over the Germans, Japanese, and Italians during World War II and was an important contributor to the Allied victory.
Though the M1 Garand did not have as long of a run as some of the other rifles on this list, the armies that used it got a lot of mileage out of it during the mid-20th Century. Over 6,000,000 M1 Garand rifles were produced and it was the primary rifle carried by the United States Army and Marine Corps (and the militaries of several other countries) during World War II and Korea, which is where it saw the most fighting. However, in addition to seeing limited use in countless smaller conflicts, it also saw action in the hands of the South Koreans during the Korean War, the South Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, the Israelis in several wars, and was used by the Greeks and Turks against each other during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974.
Introduced by the Germans in 1898, the Mauser 1898 featured the revolutionary controlled round feed system that Mauser is now famous for. Combined with the smokeless M/88 cartridge (later changed to 7.92x57mm) and a five round internal magazine that could be loaded by a stripper clip, the Mauser 1898 was a potent weapon on the battlefield.
The Mauser 1898 (and its successor, the Karabiner 98k) were used by the German Army and several of its allies and puppet states in World War I and II. The rifle was also used in the Spanish Civil War, the Arab-Israeli Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, numerous African colonial conflicts, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and is currently being used in the Syrian Civil War. Like the Lee-Enfield rifle, the Mauser is also extremely popular among civilian sportsmen.
Since 1898, around 19,000,000 Mauser 1898 and Karabiner 98k rifles were produced.
Nicknamed “The Right Arm of The Free World,” the FN FAL is the probably the closest Western comparison to the ubiquitous AK series of rifles. Firing the 7.62x51mm cartridge and developed in Belgium in the 1940s and 1950s, the rifle was originally intended to be the standard NATO battle rifle. However, the United States declined to adopt the rifle, opting for the M-14 instead.
Even so, the FN FAL has been used by the armies of over 90 different countries all over the world. The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Belgium, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Israel, Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, Kuwait, and Rhodesia, are just a few of the countries that have used the FN FAL during the last 50 years. The FN-FAL is currently still in production and an estimated 5,000,000 have been built to date.
Over the years, the FN FAL has been used in a number of wars and conflicts including the Falklands War (used by both sides), the Rhodesian Bush War, the South African Border War, the Angolan Civil War, the Malayan Emergency, the Congo Crisis, the Northern Ireland Conflict, the Vietnam War, the Six Day War, the War of Attrition, the Yom Kippur War, and Operation Desert Storm. More recently, the FN FAL is still seeing plenty of action in the ongoing wars in Libya, Syria, and Iraq as well as the Mexican Drug War.
Adopted by the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps in the 1960s, the M-16 series of rifles was first used during the Vietnam War. The rifle was the first service rifle to be chambered in the 5.56x45mm cartridge, which is now the NATO standard. Since the 1960s, the M-16 has undergone a number of modifications and is one of the longest tenured service rifles used by the United States military.
To date, the M-16 (or a version of it) has been used by over 70 countries, including the United States, South Korea, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, Costa Rica, Canada (C-7), El Salvador, Estonia, Denmark (C-7), the Philippines, Malaysia, and Turkey. The rifle is still in production and approximately 10,000,000 M-16 rifles (and all variants of the M-16) have been built to date.
The M-16 made it’s debut during the Vietnam War. Additionally, the M-16 was used extensively during the 1982 Israeli Invasion of Lebanon, Operation Desert Storm, the intervention in Somalia, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Still the primary rifle for dozens of countries, the M-16 is still seeing plenty of action in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and the Mexican Drug war.
With over 37,000,000 rifles of all variants produced since it was first adopted by the Russian Army in 1891, the Mosin-Nagant is the most prolific military bolt-action rifle in history. Though not a beautiful or elegant rifle, the Mosin-Nagnt has made a name for itself for being rugged, reliable, and easy to mass produce. Chambered in the potent 7.62x54mmR cartridge, the rifle was the primary armament of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union for decades until it was eventually replaced by the SKS.
The Mosin-Nagant has seen such extensive use that it is impossible to list all of the places where it has seen action in the space provided. The rifle first drew blood during the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 and was used extensively by the Russians during World War I. It was then used by both sides during the Russian Revolution, Russian Civil War, and the Winter War with Finland. The rifle again went to work during World War II, where it was perhaps the most prolific weapon used during some of the heaviest fighting the world has ever seen. Due primarily to the fact that the Soviet Union made a point of supplying communist forces with Mosin-Nagant rifles for decades, the rifle saw action in virtually every conflict during the Cold War including the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. Even though the original design is well over 100 years old, Mosin-Nagant rifles are still in heavy use in ongoing conflicts, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Ukraine.
Kalashnikov Series of Rifles
Firing the intermediate power 7.62x39mm cartridge, the AK-47 (and all its variants) has dramatically shaped the world in the nearly 70 years it has been in existence. While it is probably the least accurate rifle on this list, the AK-47 makes up for this by being very inexpensive, simple to manufacture, easy to use, and extremely reliable.
Over 100,000,000 (and counting) Kalashnikovs have been produced since the rifle was first introduced. Well over 100 countries, including the Soviet Union/Russia, Poland, East Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Yugoslavia, China, Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba, Israel, South Korea, Iran, Iraq, Angola, Egypt, Pakistan, and Afghanistan (just to name a few) have equipped their military and/or police forces with some version of the Kalashnikov over the last 70 years.
Some version of the Kalashnikov has been used in nearly every conflict and war of independence since the 1960s including the Vietnam War, the Rhodesian Bush War, the South African Border War, the Angolan Civil War, the Six Day War, the War of Attrition, the Yom Kippur War, the Lebanese Civil War and Operation Desert Storm. The rifle is still seeing plenty of action in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libyia, Ukraine, and the Mexican Drug War (among other places).
The Kalashnikov is so common in so many countries, many of them lawless and war torn, that one study estimates that over 250,000 people all over the world are killed by people using Kalashnikovs each year.