In order from 10th most important to greatest importance. Mind you, this list was put together by me – so feel free to disagree/argue with me in the comments section.
10. The Henry Rifle – The Henry rifle was the first truly popular repeating rifle, and is essentially the “father” of the famous Winchester lever-action rifles. The Henry makes this list by dint of being a truly revolutionary firearm, at time when the battlefield was dominated by single-shot muzzleloading rifles.
9. The 1871 Mauser – The first bolt action repeater fielded by the German Army, the ’71 Mauser was the first in what would become a long line of bolt action rifles. I can’t even begin to enumerate the number of rifles that Mauser would eventually produce; honestly it’s difficult to pick the “greatest” Mauser…so I went with the first. Plus, the ’71 Mauser fired an 11mm blackpowder cartridge. Now that’s a big bore.
8. The SMLE Mark III – “The rifle of an Empire”, the Mk III Short Magazine Lee-Enfield was introduced in 1907, and served the British Empire in two World Wars. When one thinks of the iconic image of the Tommy during WWII, he is invariably armed with an SMLE.
7. The Colt M16/AR15 – The M16/AR-15 type rifles have been the standard service rifle in the US for over 40 years; you can bicker back and forth about the effectiveness of the 5.56 cartridge, but the fact remains that the AR-15 truly was a revolution. I can only imagine what an Army soldier must have thought when they took away his M-14 and replaced it with this rifle.
6. The Sturmgewehr 44 – You could call this the “father of the assault rifle”. The ST44 had a bit of a hard time getting into major issue with the German Army during WWII; however once it did it had an excellent service record. Firing an intermediate cartridge (7.92mm Kurz) from an extended magazine, the ST44 may not have arrived in time to change the course of the war; but it changed the course of rifle development.
5. Charleville Musket – Used by the French and American forces during the Revolutionary War, the Charleville Musket was also used as the pattern for the first US manufactured/issued musket, the Springfield Musket of 1795.
4. The Matchlock – in a historical sense, it is difficult to create any list without including matchlock longarms. The matchlock was the first “practical” man-portable firearm to be used on the battlefield. The burning match allowed the soldier to use both hands to aim what was a truly large and unwieldy weapon.
3. The M1 Garand – called by General Patton the “the greatest implement of battle ever devised”, the M1 Garand was the first semi-automatic rifle to be used at the general issue to infantry. “US rifle, caliber .30, M1, gas operated, clip fed, air-cooled semi-automatic shoulder weapon” heralded the beginning of the end for the bolt-action rifle as a primary military rifle.
2. The AK47 – No greatest rifle list would be complete without the venerable Kalashnikov. Honestly, if I have to list why this rifle is on the list…well, I just don’t know what to say to you. The ubiquitous rifle of terrorists, guerrillas, freedom fighters, and everyone in between, the AK pattern rifles have seen more combat in the 20th century than any other rifle.
1. The Brown Bess Musket – Quite simply, the musket that ruled world. From 1722 to 1838, some form of the flintlock Brown Bess was the primary longarm of the British Army. After 1838, many were converted to use a percussion cap for ignition, and continued to serve as substitute standard weapons with English. No other musket or rifle is as synonymous with global empire as the Brown Bess, thus its rightful place at the top of the list.