During the April-June 1982 Falklands War, one of the more curious photos released by Argentina showed an Argentine marine carrying what appeared to be a M1 Garand, accompanied by a comrade with the standard FAL modern assault rifle.
The Argentine experience with the Garand started at the end of WWII. During the war, Argentina (with a notable pro-German sentiment amongst citizens) had remained neutral. By March 1945, the Soviets had occupied all of Prussia and American troops were in Frankfurt, and it was obvious that Germany was going to be defeated. On 27 March 1945, Argentina declared war on the Axis (Italy had already been eliminated). In deference to his citizens, Peron phrased the declaration as aimed primarily at Japan, with Germany included “as Japan’s ally”.
Peron had no intention of actually going to war, but the declaration allowed Argentina to join the new UN at the eleventh hour, and also froze German financial assets on it’s soil just before the Third Reich collapsed. Finally, it made the Argentine military eligible for the USA’s wartime Latin America Aid weapons transfers.
After the surrender of Japan, Argentina received a huge shipment of WWII-veteran M1 Garand rifles at bargain pricing, along with a huge stockpile of surplus .30-06 Springfield ammunition, which Argentina designated Cartucho 7.62×63. The rifles themselves were designated Fusil M1. Deliveries started in late 1945 and ran into 1947. The WWII-veteran Garands replaced old Argentina Modelo 1909 rifles in service.
From here out, the story becomes a bit more confusing.
In the early 1950s, Argentina imported 5,500 Belgian-made FN-49 rifles. The FN-49 was in no way related to the M1 Garand, except for the fact that it fired the same .30-06 Springfield ammunition, but, from a 10-round box magazine. Also for whatever reason with the magazine removed, it tends to look a bit like the Garand at certain angles, especially from a distance. For these two reasons it somehow became confused with the M1 Garand to outside observers of the Argentine army.
While the FN-49 buy was in progress, the Argentines sought a way to utilize their massive supply of 7.65mm Mauser ammunition left over from the Modelo 1909s. A prototype of an Argentine M1 Garand clone in 7.65mm Mauser was built, but not proceeded with. The lone prototype was later donated to a museum.
By 1959, the WWII-veteran M1 Garands were obsolete and Argentina embarked on a rearmament project. The FN FAL assault rifle was selected but as conversion of frontline units would not happen until the late 1960s, a quick, cheap stop-gap was needed. Argentina selected the Beretta BM59. Unlike the FN-49, the BM59 actually was a near-copy of the M1 Garand; the main difference being that it fired 7.62mm NATO ammunition from a 20-round box magazine. The designs were so close that some Garand parts were interchangeable. The 7.62mm NATO ammunition was a key factor in the selection, as the 7.62mm NATO round would also be used by the FAL. Below is an Argentine soldier during the Falklands War with a BM59, US-made M1 pot helmet, and Argentine-standard OD green uniform.
So, by the mid-1960s, Argentina had WWII-standard M1 Garands, along with FN-49s, and Beretta BM59s.
From here, the story becomes even more confusing. As Argentina still had 7.65mm Mauser ammo warehoused, some (but not all) of the FN-49s were rechambered for that ammunition. (These rechambered FN-49s were the final Argentine weapons to use it, and the expensive and somewhat pointless effort was curtailed early.) Meanwhile, most (but not all) remaining M1 Garands were rechambered to 7.62mm NATO for commonality with the BM59 and the FAL.
When Argentina occupied the Falkland Islands in 1982, it’s main infantry weapon by a wide margin was the modern FAL assault rifle. However…..still in stock were: ♦ Some 7.62mm NATO-rechambered M1 Garands ♦ A very tiny handful of unmodified WWII-configuration .30-06 Garands ♦ FN-49s in the original .30-06 caliber ♦ Some of the FN-49s rechambered to the old 7.65mm Mauser round ♦ And finally, the 7.62mm NATO BM59.
For certain, the BM59 was used in the war. The Argentine marines used it as a designated marksman weapon and as a second-line rifle; meanwhile the Argentine army and air force also used it in the latter role. A number of BM59s were captured by the British and taken back to the UK as trophies.
It’s extremely unlikely that any FN-49s (in either caliber) saw action as Argentina had great difficulty bringing supplies to the islands and had no desire to move yet another ammunition type. For the same reason, it’s unlikely that any original, .30-06 Springfield M1 Garands were there – besides the ammunition issue, there were simply hardly any serviceable ones left by 1982. However, there were reportedly a few of the 7.62mm NATO-rechambered M1 Garands on the islands, but this may have just been confusion with the BM59.
So to get back to the picture at the top of the entry, the “Falklands Garand” was probably actually a BM59. None the less, it’s still remarkable that John Garand’s 1932 design (even if an Italian copy using Cold War ammunition) saw action a half-century later in a war dominated by Exocet missiles and Harrier jets.
After Argentina’s defeat, all of these rifles except for the BM59 were immediately phased out. Some M1 Garands were transferred to police departments, others ended up with civilian Argentine shooters. The BM59 has also now been phased out, and in 2015 Argentina’s infantry weapons are the (still-in-service) FAL, the M16/M4 family, and most recently, the FAMAS assault rifle.