When Marlin held the line against a Japanese invasion of Canada

  1. Editor
    In a little known piece of military history, a number of Marlin lever action 1936 rifles played an unsung role in the defense of Canada's west coast during World War Two-- possibly even staving off a Japanese invasion.

    War comes to Vancouver

    On the night of June 20, 1942, just off the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada, Japanese submarine I-26 surfaced. Just six months before, Canada had been drawn into World War 2 in the Pacific as a British and American ally. Already the country had paid dearly against the Japanese, with nearly 2,000 Canadian soldiers of 'C Force' killed or captured in the defense of Hong Kong as part of the Commonwealth garrison in that British colony.

    Now, the war had crossed the world's largest ocean and come to Canada's doorstep. In just under six minutes, I-26 had fired some 30 84-pound, 5.5-inch artillery shells at the Estevan Point lighthouse. The lighthouse was undamaged and the shells landed harmlessly around the Hesquiat Peninsula of Vancouver Island, but the point had been made.

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    Canadian Naval staff inspect a Japanese shell from Estevan Point, B.C. Photo: Gerald Thomas Richardson.

    The very next day another Japanese sub would surface and bombard Fort Stevens on the Oregon coast. Just a few months earlier, the same thing could be said for Ellwood, California. Already the Japanese were seizing islands in the Aleutians off the coast of Alaska from the Americans. Up and down the West Coast of North America in 1942, there was a real scare of a Japanese invasion.

    The country was seen as vulnerable.

    What was the PCMR?

    On August 12, 1942, just over three weeks after the Vancouver Island attack, the Canadian Army established the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers. The PCMR, as it became known, was formed of local part-time soldiers recruited from along the country's western frontier. Scattered from Washington State to what was then the Alaska Territory, these men were in large part either too old or too young to be in the regular military. This led to those under 18 and over 45 making up the ranks. However, then as now, the Canadian Pacific coast was made up of rugged outdoorsmen, logger, miners, hunters, and anglers who were skilled with a rifle and well-heeled in taking care of themselves in the wild.

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    The PCMR were a hardy bunch. Photo: CFB Esquimalt Naval & Military Museum

    Over the next three years the PCMR would form some 134 companies and grow to more than 15,000 volunteer soldiers, watching out for Japanese landing parties, saboteurs, and submarines. If things got real, they were expected to pursue small bands of invaders and if confronted with large enemy forces, to head for the hills Wolverines-style and mount a guerrilla campaign until the cavalry could come to the rescue. However, to do any of the above, they needed guns.

    Where Marlin came in

    Since there was a war on in which Canada was sending its men and boys to fight the Germans in Europe and Africa as well as the Japanese in the Pacific, military arms and equipment of all kinds was lacking. Instead of proper uniforms, the new rangers were given an armband. While the rest of the Canadian forces were getting Enfield rifles, Bren guns and Browning-Inglis Hi Power pistols, the rangers had to make do with what could be scrounged up, often patrolling with their own rifles and shotguns. This led Canadian purchasing agents to look to American sources for rifles.

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    (A PCMR-marked Marlin Model 1936)

    At the time the most popular style of rifle in the North American West was the .30WCF (.30-30 caliber) lever action. As such, purchasers figured the Winchester 94/64 and Marlin 1936 would be easy for the rangers to figure out-- as they more than likely had experience with the type already.

    Promptly some 3000 Winnies and an estimated 1800 Marlins were acquired direct from North Haven, likely all the companies had on hand. Guns were issued out as needed to senior members of the companies, but stocks of .30-.30 ammo was so limited that only a six rounds were issued with the rifle while the rest was locked up in the company's armory, typically in the vault of the local bank.

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    Lever-action rifles were so common to the Rangers that they were even included in their cap badge along with double-headed ax and a totem eagle.

    Antique Ross and No.1 Enfields and WWI-surplus M1917 rifles transferred from the U.S. Army's stocks and later, late in the war, by new-made STEN submachine guns, augmented these lever action rifles.

    When the war ended, the rangers were no longer needed and were disbanded in 1945. This led to the government offering former rangers their 'war gun' for a token fee of $5 as a severance package of sorts.


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    Rangers were allowed to buy their lever-action rifles for $5, which was a nice bonus considering they served unpaid during the war. Here is a receipt for a Winchester .30-30 sold to a ranger on his way out of the service in December 1945. Photo: Nambu World

    While some accepted, many did not and the guns still in government hands were stored until 1962 when they were declared surplus and sold on the market. This has led to a few of these classics being re-imported back to the land of their birth.

    How to tell your PCMR Marlin

    It's unknown exactly how many Model 1936s were sold to the Canadian military for the PCMR but it was certainly not a huge quantity, generally thought to be less than two thousand. How many remain some 75 years later is another wild card. To tell if your gun 1936 is a PCMR there are a few easy steps.

    As they were bought for military use, they will all have the Canadian army property marking consisting of a Broad Arrow within a "C" marking on the buttstock, frame, and forestock.

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    Three Photos above courtesy of Gun Auction.com


    Cracked buttstocks and missing buttplates are common on former PCMRs as they often were slammed hard on the ground, butt-first, by eager teenage recruits being coached in the basics of military rifle drill.

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    They also often had locally added sling swivels for the Enfield-style green military canvas rifle sling such as this one on a PCMR Winchester 94. Photo by Vintage Winchesters.

    Most of these found in the wild have been discovered by the serial number range to be 1941-42 made "B" prefix guns to include both rifle and carbine length barreled guns.
    Values of these guns are whatever the buyer wants to pay and the seller wants to let it go for. Rumors of out of the way gun shops and sporting goods stores in the Pacific Northwest having an old PCMR 1936 Marlin on the shelf for $200 are legend whenever Marlin lever gun enthusiasts gather in hushed terms.

    However, once the gun has been positively identified, they go upwards of $700, and sometimes even twice that amount depending on condition.

    After all, these guns helped win a war in their own way.

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