The M1 Carbine

The M1 Carbine


Formally the United States Carbine, Caliber .30, M1, is a lightweight, easy to use 30 calibers (7.62 mm) semi-automatic carbine that was a standard firearm for the U.S. military during World War II, the Korean War and well into the Vietnam War.

The M1 Carbine was produced in several variants and was used widely by not only the U.S. military but by paramilitary and police forces around the world. It has also been a favorite civilian firearm. The M2 Carbine is the selective-fire version of the M1 carbine capable of firing in both semi-automatic and full-automatic. The M3 carbine was an M2 carbine with an active infrared scope system.

Despite having a similar name and appearance, the M1 Carbine is not a carbine version of the M1 Garand rifle. They are different firearms, and they use different ammunition.

On July 1, 1925, the U.S. Army began using the current naming system where the “M” is the designation for Model. So the “number” represents the sequential development of equipment and weapons. Therefore, the “M1 rifle” was the first rifle developed under this system.
The “M2 carbine” was the second carbine developed under the system.

Development history

Limitations of weapons in the U.S. arsenal

M1 Carbine

The M1 Rifle and M1 Carbine share only a butt plate screw and use differently sized.30 caliber ammunition

Before World War II, U.S. Army Ordnance received reports that the full-size M1 rifle was too heavy and cumbersome for most support troops (staff, mortarmen, radiomen) to carry.

During prewar and early war field exercises, They found that the M1 Garand impeded these soldiers’ mobility, as a slung rifle would frequently catch on the brush, bang the helmet, or tilt over the eyes.

Many soldiers found the rifle slid off the shoulder unless slung diagonally across the back, where it prevented the wearing of standard field packs and haversacks.


The M1 carbine

Briefing for staff personnel. Note: Folding stock M1A1 carbine on the table fulfill all of these requirements, but specified that the new arm should weigh no more than five pounds and have an effective range of 300 yards. Paratroopers also were added to the list of intended users, and a folding-stock version designed.

Designing the M1 carbine

In 1938, the Chief of Infantry requested that the Ordnance Department develop a “light rifle” or carbine.

Although the formal requirement for the weapon type did not exist in 1940. That led to a competition in 1941 by major U.S. firearm companies and designers. Winchester at first did not submit a carbine design, as it involved in developing the .30-06 Winchester M2 Military Rifle.

The rifle originated as a design by Jonathan “Ed” Browning, brother of the famous firearm designer John Browning. A couple of months after Ed Browning’s death in May 1939.

Winchester hired David Marshall “Carbine” Williams who had begun work on a short-stroke gas piston design while serving a prison sentence at a North Carolina minimum-security work farm. Winchester, after Williams’ release, had hired Williams on the strength of recommendations of firearms industry leaders and hoped Williams would be able to complete various designs left unfinished by Ed Browning, including the Winchester .30-06 M2 rifle.

Williams incorporated his short-stroke piston in the existing design. After the Marine Corps semi-automatic rifle trials in 1940, Browning’s rear-locking tilting bolt design proved unreliable in sandy conditions. As a result, the rifle was redesigned to incorporate a Garand-style rotating bolt and operating rod, retaining Williams’ short-stroke piston. By May 1941, Williams had shaved the M2 rifle prototype from about 9.5 lb (4.3 kg) to a mere 7.5 lb (3.4 kg).

Ordnance found unsatisfactory the first series of prototype carbines submitted by several firearms companies and some independent designers.
Winchester had contacted the Ordnance Corps to examine their rifle M2 design. Major René Studler of Ordnance believed the rifle design could be scaled down to a carbine which would weigh 4.5 to 4.75 lb (2.0–2.2 kg) and demanded a prototype as soon as possible.

The first model was developed

The first model was developed at Winchester in 13 days by William C. Roemer, Fred Humeston and three other Winchester engineers under the supervision of Edwin Pugsley, and was essentially Williams’ last version of the .30-06 M2 scaled down too.30 SL cartridge. This patchwork prototype was cobbled together using the trigger housing and lockwork of a Winchester M1905 rifle and a modified Garand operating rod. The prototype was an immediate hit with army observers.

After the initial army testing in August 1941, the Winchester design team set out to develop a more refined version. Williams participated in the finishing of this prototype. The second prototype competed successfully against all remaining carbine candidates in September 1941, and Winchester was notified of their success the very next month.

They approved Standardization as the M1 Carbine on October 22, 1941. This story was the loose basis for the 1952 movie Carbine Williams starring James Stewart. Williams had little to do with the carbine’s development except for his short-stroke gas piston design. Williams worked on his design apart from the other Winchester staff. However, it was not ready for testing until December 1941, two months after the Winchester M1 Carbine was adopted and type-classified.

Winchester supervisor Edwin Pugsley conceded that Williams’ final design was “an advance on the one that was accepted. However, the fact that Williams’ decision to go it alone was a distinct impediment to the project and Williams’ additional design features into M1 production.

In a 1951 memo written in fear of a patent infringement lawsuit by Williams, Winchester noted his patent for the short-stroke piston might have as a previous patent covering the same principle of operation was overlooked by the patent office. In 1973 the senior technical editor at the NRA contacted Edwin Pugsley for “a technical last testament” on M1 Carbine history shortly before his death 19 Nov 1975.

According to Pugsley, “The Carbine was invented by no single man,” but was the result of a team effort including Bill Roemer, Marsh Williams, Fred Humeston, Cliff Warner, at least three other Winchester engineers, and Pugsley himself. Ideas were taken and modified from the Winchester M2 Browning rifle (Williams’ gas system), the Winchester 1905 rifle (fire control group), M1 Garand (buttstock dimensions and bolt and operating slide principles), and a percussion shotgun in Pugsley’s collection (hook breech and barrel band assembly/disassembly).


M1 Carbine

.30 Carbine cartridge




 M1 carbine

WW II M1 Carbine with a magazine pouch mounted on the stock that held two spare 15-round magazines.

 M1 carbine

Closeup of M1 Carbine receiver. Note first flip sight and push-button safety.






 M1 carbine

U.S. Army Rangers were resting in the vicinity of Pointe du Hoc, which they assaulted in support of “Omaha” Beach landings on “D-Day,” 6 June 1944. Note Ranger in right center, apparently using his middle finger to push cartridges into an M-1 Carbine magazine. The Carbine and a backpack frame are nearby.


 M1 carbine

A Marine armed with an M1 Carbine and M8 grenade launcher attached to the muzzle, during the Battle of Iwo Jima.


 M1 carbine

U.S. Marine in combat at Guam.


The .30 Carbine cartridge is essentially a rimless version of the then obsolete .32 Winchester Self-Loading cartridge introduced for the Winchester Model 1905 rifle.

The propellant was much newer, though, taking advantage of chemistry advances. As a result, the.30 Carbine is approximately 27% more potent than its parent cartridge. A standard.30 Carbine ball bullet weighs 110 grains (7.1 g), a complete loaded round weighs 195 grains (12.6 g) and has a muzzle velocity of 1,990 ft/s (610 m/s) giving it 967 ft·lbf (1,311 joules) of energy, when fired from the M1 carbine’s 18″ barrel.


 M1 carbine

Inland MFG M1 rifle.

By comparison

The .30-06 M1 Garand is almost 3 times more potent than the Carbine. However, the Carbine is twice as powerful as the .45ACP caliber submachine guns in everyday use at the time. As a result, the carbine offers much better range, accuracy, and penetration than those submachine guns. The M1 is also half the weight of a Thompson submachine gun and fires a lighter cartridge. Therefore, soldiers armed with the Carbine can carry much more ammunition than those armed with a Tommy Gun.

Categorizing the M1 Carbine series has been the subject of much debate. Although commonly compared to the later German StG44 and Russian AK-47, the M1 and M2 carbines are under-powered and outclassed by comparison. The Carbine instead falls somewhere between the submachine gun and the assault rifle and could be called a precursor of the personal defense weapon since it fulfilled a similar role.

One characteristic of the Carbine ammunition is that from the beginning of production, they specified non-corrosive primers. The first significant use of this type of primer in a military firearm. Because the rifle had a closed gas system, not customarily disassembled, corrosive primers would have led to a rapid deterioration of the gas system. The use of non-corrosive primers was a novelty in-service ammunition at this time. Some failures to fire reported in the first lots of them. .30 Carbine ammunition, attributed to moisture ingress of the non-corrosive primer compound.




The M1 Carbine entered service with a standard straight 15-round box magazine. The introduction of the select-fire M2 carbine in October 1944 also brought into service the curved 30-round magazine or “Banana Clip” After WW2, the 30-round magazine quickly became the standard magazine for both the M1 and M2 Carbine, although the 15-round magazine remained in service until the end of the Vietnam war.

Perhaps the most common accessory used on the M1 Carbine was a standard magazine belt pouch that was mounted to the right side of the stock and held two extra 15-round magazines. This field adaptation was never officially approved but proved an efficient method to supply extra ammunition in combat. After the introduction of the 30-round magazine, it was common for troops to tape two 30-round magazines together, a practice that became known as “Jungle style”. This led the military to introduce the “Holder, Magazine T3-A1” also called the “Jungle Clip”, a metal clamp that held two magazines together without the need for tape.

The 30-round magazines introduced for use with the selective-fire M2 Carbine would not be reliably retained by the magazine catch made for the original M1 Carbine which was designed to retain a 15-round magazine, so the much heavier (when loaded) 30-round magazine would not be properly seated in the M1 Carbine magazine well. The loaded 30-round magazine would typically cant (impairing feed reliability) or even fall out, which helps explain why the 30-round magazines have a poor reliability record (they are also more prone to damage due to their added length and weight when loaded as thin steel is used to make them).

Thus early production M1 Carbines must be fitted with the type IV magazine catch used on the M2 Carbine (and late production M1 Carbines) if it is to be used with 30-round magazines. The type IV magazine catch will have a leg on the left side to correspond with the additional nub on the 30-round magazines. Initial combat reports noted that M1 carbine’s magazine release button was often mistaken for the safety button while under fire. When this occurred, pressing the mag release caused the loaded magazine to drop into the dirt, while the safety remained in the off position. As a result, the push-button safety was redesigned using a rotating lever.


A total of over 6.1 million M1 Carbine of various models were manufactured, making it the most produced small arm for the American military during World War II (compared with about 5.4 million M1 rifles and about 1.3 million Thompson submachine guns). Despite being designed by Winchester, the great majority of these were made by other companies. The largest producer was the Inland division of General Motors, but many others were made by contractors as diverse as IBM, the Underwood typewriter company, and the Rock-Ola jukebox company.

Few contractors made all the parts for carbines bearing their names: some makers bought parts from other major contractors or sub-contracted minor parts to companies like Marlin Firearms or Auto-Ordnance. All parts were required to be interchangeable. Often one company would get ahead or behind in production and parts would be shipped from one company to the other to help them catch up on their quota.

When receivers were shipped for this purpose the manufacturers would often mark them for both companies. One of the stranger combinations were the M1’s made by the combined efforts of Underwood and Quality Hardware. This receiver was subcontracted from Union Switch and Signal, not Underwood) One has to wonder what the GI thought when he looked at the manufacture’s name of the Carbine he had been issued to carry into battle when it was marked UN-QUALITY.

 Many carbines were refurbished at several arsenals after the war, with many parts interchanged from original maker carbines. True untouched war production carbines, therefore, are the most desirable for collectors. The M1 carbine was also one of the most cost-effective weapons used by the United States Military during World War II. At the beginning of World War II, the average production cost for an M1 carbine was approximately $45, about half the cost of an M1 rifle at approximately $85 and about a fifth of the cost of a Thompson submachine gun at approximately $225.

The .30 Carbine ammunition was also far cheaper to produce than the standard .30-06 ammunition; used fewer resources, was smaller, lighter, faster and easier to make. These were major factors in the United States Military decision to adopt the M1 carbine, especially when considering the vast numbers of weapons and ammunition manufactured and transported by the United States during World War II.


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