There are some widespread misconceptions regarding the markings found on the stocks of World War II production M1 rifles. This posting is prompted by an American Rifleman “Q&A” inquiry I recently received. The gentleman had just acquired a WWII Winchester M1 Garand rifle and noticed the “WRA/GHD” stamp on the left side of the stock. He was told that these were the initials of the rifle’s inspector and wanted to know if I could identify “GHD” as he thought it would be cool to know the name of the guy who actually inspected his rifle during the war.
I told him that I could identify “GHD” but he may be disappointed learn that he did not actually inspect the rifle. I related that “GHD” was Colonel (later Brig. Gen.) Guy Humphrey Drewry who was appointed Deputy District Chief of the Springfield Ordnance District in June 1942. I went on to explain that in this capacity, Drewry did not actually inspect the weapons but, rather, they were inspected by ordnance inspectors operating under his authority. As I also mentioned, Col. Drewry was preceded in this position by Col. Robert Sears (“RS”) followed by Col. Waldemar Broberg (“WB”). None of these officers were actually inspectors but were Ordnance Department bureaucrats (no disrespect intended) even if they did wear a spread eagle or a star on their collars who had the significant responsibility of monitoring the manufacture and inspection of the small arms produced under government contract by commercial firms in their Ordnance District. My Q&A answer also briefly mentioned that WWII Springfield Armory Garands were also marked in a similar manner but with the initials of the Commanding Officers of the Armory at the time the rifles were manufactured.
This incident got me thinking (which can be a dangerous thing!) about the entire subject of inspection markings. Some of the misconceptions mentioned about are, as the inquirer was told, that such initials were of the actual inspector of the weapons As shown, in the case of the M1 Garand Final Inspection Stamps, this was simply not the case. To some extent, the same was true for other weapons such as Springfield Armory and Rock Island Arsenal M1903 rifles that had also initials stamped on the left side of the stock. For example, WWI and pre-WWI M1903 rifles may be observed with several differed initials. One common one was “JSA” which signified John Sumnar Adams. He was Springfield’s “Master Armorer” during this period and, while Adams may have inspected a few arms himself, he was actually more of a supervisor than an inspector. Likewise, a well-known final inspection stamp found on pre-WWI M1903 rifles manufactured by Rock Island Arsenal is “CN” (over the date of assembly). Once again, Conrad Nelson was the foreman of small arms inspection at the Arsenal and his stamp found on an ’03 does not, by any means, indicate that he actually inspected the weapon.
In the case of weapons that were rebuilt, especially after WWII, the initials typically found on these arms may indicate the inspector that actually approved the overhaul job on that specific rifle. Unfortunately, unlike the Final Inspection Stamps of newly manufactured weapons, we do not know the identity of the vast majority of these guys. M1 rifles rebuilt at Springfield Armory in the early 1950s were often stamped “SA” over a single initial. It is presumed that the initial represents the inspector who approved that specific overhaul rather than a chief of inspections as there are a number of different letters extant. The same is true of weapons overhauled after WWII at such facilities as the San Antonio Arsenal (Texas) or Anniston Arsenal (Alabama). These inspection stamps normally consist of “SAA” or “AA” followed by a letter suffix. Some Anniston inspection stamps have been observed with a digit rather than a letter. Again, these probably were the actual person who inspected the overhaul but the identity of these individuals is not known. One exception is the fairly common post-WWII rebuild stamp found on weapons overhauled at Raritan (NJ) Arsenal; “RA-P.” In this case “RA” indicates “Raritan Arsenal” and “P” is Harry Petersen who was in charge of small arms inspection there. However, in this case, it is probable that Mr. Petersen, like Messrs. Adams and Conrad, was more of a supervisor than the person who actually inspected the arm after rebuild.
In summary, while it is technically correct to call such markings “inspection stamps,” in the case of WWII M1 rifles, this should be not construed to mean that the individual represented by the initials on the stock actually inspected, or even saw, the rifle in question. They didn’t. This was done by the ordnance inspectors who labored daily diligently checking the rifles as they came off Springfield's or Winchester’s assembly line. At least for now, these unsung but dedicated workers will remain anonymous.