Military’s 308 Winchester Mistake?
Well, let’s get this military superiority claim out of the way first. The 308 Winchester/7.62×51 NATO cartridge walked a crooked line on its way to the U.S. M14 service rifle. It was created during the T65 project tasked with finding a replacement for the 30-06 Springfield. Some say the military wanted less bulk in service rifles and ammo, some say less recoil, more accuracy, or a need to function in autoloading rifles or machine guns. But this seems odd because WWII’s Garand is an auto-loader and the M1919 Machine Gun fired the 30-06.
Well, others say, they had to devise a cartridge all our NATO allies would accept. But the British had a ballistically superior 7mm round most NATO allies wanted, but our military brass and politicians threw their weight around and nixed that option. At any rate, while all the bureaucratic red tape played out, Winchester got the experimental T65 cartridge certified by SAAMI as the 308 Winchester and started stacking it on store shelves in 1952. NATO didn’t accept it until 1954. And our own military — who insisted the Brit’s 7mm wasn’t good enough — didn’t endorse the 7.62×51 NATO for US troops until 1957. I would appear we embraced it rather half-heartedly. My assumption is reinforced by the fact that just seven years later we threw it overboard for the little 5.56x45mm Ball cartridge M193. Yeah, the puny little 223 Remington displaced the wonderful 7.62×51 NATO after just seven years.
The 7.62×51 NATO did remain in inventory (still does, though it’s about to be replaced by something like the SigSauer .277 Fury) and was widely used in sniping rifle platforms and in the M60 machine gun. But the old 30-06 served well and honorably in bolt-action and autoloading platforms for 50 years and two world wars. Nevertheless, that doesn’t make it the ultimate winner anymore than the 308’s much shorter reign makes it the loser. Ballistic performance is the more important criteria. And there are dozens of cartridges with better ballistic performance than either of these 308s. That does not mean that these two are weak or ineffective military cartridges. Or even poor civilian cartridges. It just means that they are not vastly superior to many others just because a government agency (for all the usual convoluted procurement reasons) chose them. (There’s a reason the acronym SNAFU arose out of the military.)
Sorry, But The 308 Winchester is Not Equal to the 30-06 — Ron Spomer Outdoors is written by Ron Spomer for www.ronspomeroutdoors.com