The “Deadly Ping”

Posted by Bruce Canfield

Long-time readers of this site probably remember my posting some time ago titled “An Enduring Urban Legend” that discussed the widespread and oft-repeated (even on some television faux-history programs) myth regarding “danger” involved with the distinctive metallic ping that the M1 Garand rifle’s clip makes when ejected. I don’t want to repost the original blog here, but I subsequently covered the topic in a fairly recent Q&A in the American Rifleman (repeated below):

“Q. Despite all the accolades that have been heaped on the M1 Garand rifle, a deadly defect is rarely mentioned. It is my understanding that the pinging noise made when the clip was ejected resulted in many of our troops being killed because it signaled the enemy that the rifle was empty and the soldier defenseless until he could reload. I was wondering why this flaw wasn’t envisioned and fixed when the rifle was being developed so as to prevent such unnecessary casualties.

A. While there were multiple variations, most of the associated stories to which you allude generally involved tales of a wily Japanese or German hearing the distinctive metallic “ping” of an ejected clip, charging across open ground and shooting or bayoneting (depending on the story) the hapless GI or Marine while he fumbled around trying to reload his M1 rifle. A novel twist on the tale involved dropping empty M1 clips on the ground and then mowing down the bad guys when they fell for the ruse and foolishly revealed their positions. Such stories were not limited to World War II as similar situations were related as having occurred during the Korean War when empty Garand clips could be heard hitting the frozen ground.

If examined with any degree of objectivity, such a scenario is quite implausible. As anyone who has experienced combat can testify, a battlefield is a noisy and confusing environment. To believe that an enemy soldier could hear the sound of an ejected M1 clip several hundred, or even several dozen, yards away is illogical. Even if the enemy could hear the ping, there wouldn’t be much he could do about it as an infantryman with a little practice, and a lot of incentive, can reload a M1 rifle surprisingly fast. Even if a GI couldn’t reload fast enough, there were fellow squad members around with loaded weapons who would have been only too willing to send the bad guys to their fate in the hereafter.

This alleged defect of the M1 rifle apparently began making the rounds soon after the weapon’s introduction into service in 1936. Despite the ubiquitous claim that has been around over seventy years, there has not been one documented instance of an American serviceman being killed (or wounded) because of the noise of an ejected M1 clip. When asked to produce evidence that this actually happened, some vague answer is usually given that somebody, somewhere, knew someone who somehow had been killed because of a noisy M1 clip. To use today’s vernacular, this “urban legend” will probably be around for another seventy years. While there may be legitimate reasons to criticize the M1 rifle, the sound of its ejected clip being some sort of “deadly defect” is not among them.”

The Q&A elicited a lot of comments, both on some Internet firearms discussion sites, and correspondence to the American Rifleman staff. The vast majority of the comments were along the lines of “Thank you for putting that ridiculous myth to rest." Of course, some of the “Internet Experts” as well as a few readers of the magazine took me to task for daring to contravene the well-established “fact” about the extreme hazards of the M1’s noisy clip ejection. One letter that was forwarded to me was most interesting. Below is the letter and my subsequent response (both were printed in the magazine):

“I just got off the phone with my Dad to confirm the Garand clip experiences he had told me. First off, he is Robert Emary and served in the 101st 506th Regiment I Company. When the war ended he was a Tech Sergeant and First Sergeant for I Company. He was a replacement and fought from Market Garden to Berchtesgarten. He said at Bastogne it was very common practice to bait the Germans by squeezing and releasing an empty clip to get the ”ping” and a lot of times somebody would stand up and that was the end of them. Initially the Germans always seemed to know the exact time to expose themselves to put accurate fire on someone who just emptied their Garand. We knew they could hear the clips coming out and also figured they were counting rounds. He said this happened pretty regularly at Bastogne because there were a lot of close range engagements in the woods and dug in positions. He said he always carried a couple empty clips in his field jacket pocket and said you’d simply squeeze the clip and let it slide out of your fingers and hit the ground and be ready to shoot. He said after we started doing this the Germans got a lot more cautious.

He also told me some of the other tactics they used. He said especially when we were badly outnumbered, which was almost all the time, the BAR man would initially never fire other than a couple semi-auto rounds. They were baiting the Germans and trying to get a number of them to get bold and expose themselves. When this happened the BAR man would let them have it. He said this was very effective and several times got them out of some bad situations.”

My response: “I found Mr. Emary’s recollections to be most interesting and they correspond with similar reports regarding the M1 rifle during WWII. He and other combat veterans of the Second World War were truly heroes and we all owe them a great debt of gratitude. The point of the recent Q&A was to refute the widespread myth that the pinging noise made when the M1’s clip was ejected cost the lives of many American soldiers during the war. As stated, in the vast majority of cases, the ping could not be heard even a few dozen yards away over the din on a typical battlefield. There were certainly isolated exceptions, such as related by Mr. Emary, when an enemy may have been able to hear the noise. Even in such instances of close-quarter combat when the ping may have been audible, the American solider with the empty Garand would usually just keep his head down for the few seconds it took to reload a fresh 8-round clip. Rather than being a “deadly defect,” Mr. Emary’s experiences suggest that, in isolated instances, it could actually be an advantage. While the M1 rifle can be justly criticized for several reasons, to maintain that the ping of an ejected clip resulted in the wholesale deaths of American soldiers simply wasn’t the case.”

I certainly wasn’t going to argue the point with a gentleman who purportedly “was there” and who, along with countless other brave men, put their lives on the line to preserve our freedom. However, I still was not dissuaded from my original position on the subject.

Not too long ago (a month or so after the Q&A appeared in the magazine), the following letter was sent to the American Rifleman staff (and forwarded to me) that bolstered the “urban legend” aspect of the subject:

I read with interest Dave Emary’s recounting of his father’s experiences with the Garand and the so-called “deadly defect.” While I do not discount the veracity of the senior Emary’s account, nor those of other vets who have made similar observations in the past, I do think Mr. Canfield correctly observed that it was actually a very rare thing for the “ping” to be heard in combat, and an unlikely factor in most individual engagements. This is something I too had heard many times over the years, and as a career soldier myself, I often wondered what role this might have played.

I had an opportunity to travel to Bastogne in 2004 with several well-known veterans of “Band of Brothers” fame, and while overlooking Foy and listening to them discuss their experiences, I could not help but notice a number of older gentlemen on the path at the edge of the forest who were watching our activities, but maintaining a respectful distance. When I approached them after a few minutes, I was surprised to discover that they were members of German units that had fought in and around Bastogne -- to include the Company Commander of the troops in direct opposition to Easy Company. I spoke at length with these gentlemen, and later, with a number other vets from various Panzergrenadier and Infanterie units that had fought against the “Amis.” I asked each one of them about this matter of the Garand and its distinctive “ping.” Who would know better than the men who actually faced it in combat, right?

The reality is that every Alte Kaempfer with whom I spoke with found it laughable. Not only was the ping totally inaudible during engagements, they said, but even in the still of the night, the ruses of cycling a bolt or clearing a clip were well-known to both sides. Sure, an en bloc clip clearing the breech might mean that a GI was reloading, but it told them nothing about who else from his squad was likely waiting around the corner with him that was ready to engage. In other words, while the “deadly defect” has become a popular part of the M1’s lore (and makes for a great story), it seems to be a uniquely American construct, with little-to-no validation from the Wehrmacht troops who actually faced them in combat. Not from those that lived to tell about it, anyway.

CW5 Charles D. Petrie, Fort Bragg, NC.”

I’ll let the subject rest for now and everyone is free to make whatever conclusions they wish regarding the above disparate views on the subject.

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