By: Warren Gray
Copyright © 2023
“I am involved in a duel with a German…I see him as he lowers his rifle
upon me, and whip up my (M1) carbine. He fires. The bullet kicks dust
in my face as my carbine goes off…my lucky shot got him in the heart.
“‘I want to go up and try to get that sniper’…We see each other
simultaneously…As he frantically reaches for the safety of his rifle,
I fire (my M1 Carbine) twice. He crashes backwards.
“Crack!…(a) bullet digs a channel through my hip and knocks me flat…
I raise my carbine and with my right hand, fire pistol-fashion.
The bullet spatters between the German’s eyes.”
— First Lieutenant Audie L. Murphy, Medal of Honor winner,
To Hell and Back autobiography, 1949
In 1938, well before the American involvement in World War Two, there were numerous complaints from soldiers about the new (since 1936) M1 Garand semiautomatic, battle rifle in .30-06-caliber being too long, too heavy, and too cumbersome. It was fine for frontline troops, but for infantry officers, radiomen, drivers, tank crews, and support troops in rear areas, the extra weight could adversely affect their mobility, and the ability to perform their combat duties.
Accordingly, Winchester Arms developed the now-famous M1 Carbine, with the final design approved on October 22, 1941. The new weapon weighed just 5.2 pounds, with an 18-inch barrel, literally half the weight of an M1 Garand or Thompson submachine gun, with a barrel 25-percent shorter than the Garand’s, and costing a mere $45 at the time, compared to $85 for an M1 Garand, or $225 for a Thompson. This made it one of the most cost-effective weapons used by the U.S. military during the war, and carbine ammunition was also far cheaper to produce than the standard, .30-06 ammunition.
The M1 Carbine was designed to use the new, Winchester .30 Carbine (7.62x33mm) cartridge, firing a 110-grain, full-metal-jacket (FMJ) bullet at 1,990 feet per second, and generating 967 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. This was a much weaker round than the venerable .30-06, but the carbine was never intended to be employed as a frontline, combat weapon, but rather as a close-range, defensive gun for officers, sergeants, and support troops. As such, it was more powerful than pistols or submachine guns, but less powerful than battle rifles, and about as effective as a .357 Magnum revolver round striking its target.
The M1 Carbine features a standard, 15-round, detachable magazine, allowing for nearly double the capacity of an eight-round M1 Garand, but because of the reduced power of each round, the maximum effective range was cut from 500 yards to 300 yards, although bullet drop is significant after only 200 yards. Even then, the carbine was most effective at much closer ranges, and it offered much better range, accuracy (three to five inches at 100 yards), and penetration than 9mm or .45 ACP submachine guns. One frequently used accessory was a double magazine pouch attached to the right side of the wooden stock.
More than six million M1 Carbines of various types were produced, making it the most-produced American weapon of the entire war. Despite being designed by Winchester, the great majority of these were made by other companies, the largest of which was Inland Division (2.6 million made) of General Motors. Today, Inland Manufacturing of Dayton, Ohio, still makes several different M1 Carbine models.
America’s most-decorated soldier of World War Two, Second Lieutenant Audie L. Murphy, used a field phone, a Browning M2 .50-caliber machine gun, and an M1 Carbine when he fought off a German combined-arms attack by himself on January 26, 1945, killing or wounding 50 Germans, and earning the prestigious Medal of Honor for his incredible bravery. He also earned the Distinguished Service Cross, Legion of Merit, two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars, three Purple Hearts, four French bravery awards, and one Belgian medal during the war for his exemplary valor in action.
In May 1942, Inland developed and produced 140,591 M1A1 folding-stock models with pistol grips for U.S. paratroopers in the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, as well as for American OSS agents and commandos who parachuted into occupied France and Germany to operate behind enemy lines. Inland was the only company to manufacture paratrooper models, and they still sell them today for $1,279. It was the only gun made specifically for U.S. Airborne Forces during World War Two. In 2008, an extremely rare, authentic, Inland M1A1 paratrooper carbine with ironclad, D-Day provenance sold at auction for $20,125.
Throughout most of the war, M1 Carbines were issued without bayonet mounting lugs, and in semiautomatic only. In 1944, the simple flip sights were replaced with an adjustable rear sight, and clamp-on M3 conical flash hiders began to become available. Then, in October 1944, the selective-fire M2 Carbine was introduced, featuring curved, 30-round magazines.
It could fire at a rate of 750 to 775 rounds per minute (13 rounds per second), which initially caused many soldiers to waste ammunition by firing too soon in battle. Experienced troopers learned to use semiautomatic fire most of the time, to conserve ammunition, and reserve the full-auto mode for extreme circumstances.
Near the end of the war, an M3 Carbine variant was produced, utilizing an M2 infrared night sight or sniper scope. This was a selective-fire M2 carbine used for night warfare, primarily against the Japanese on Okinawa, with an effective range of only about 100 yards on full-auto fire, but it’s been estimated that 30 percent of Japanese casualties from rifle fire during the Okinawa campaign came from the M3 Carbine. Only 150 of these weapons were used in combat, of about 3,000 produced very late in the war.
M1 and M2 Carbines saw extensive use in the Korean War only five years later, now fitted by bayonet lugs, and with M4 bayonets provided as standard equipment. The M2 went to frontline troops, with older M1s issued to support soldiers in rear areas, as was frequently seen in the popular TV series “M*A*S*H,” from 1972 to 1983.
There were numerous complaints about the carbine’s relatively short range, and lack of stopping power against North Korean and Chinese troops clad in heavy clothing for the harsh, Korean winters. Almost all kill shots took place at ranges of 50 yards or less, however, the M2’s reduced muzzle flash over the mighty M1 Garand battle rifle made it the preferred weapon for night patrols.
M1 and M2 Carbines went on to see military service in at least 55 countries around the world, including Burma, Cambodia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, South Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay. They are still in service with police forces in Brazil and Indonesia.
During the Vietnam War, the United States provided the Army of the Republic of Vietnam with 793,994 M1 and M2 Carbines from 1963 to 1973. But enemy, Viet Cong guerillas and the North Vietnamese Army also used captured M1s and M2s in battle.
One of the more interesting developments at this time was the issuing of special, Inland M2A1 “Shorty” assault carbines to U.S. advisors and Special Forces units in Vietnam, featuring an M1A1 paratrooper folding stock and M2 selective-fire action, but with the barrels shortened to just 12 inches for quick, handy use in the dense jungles. Even today, Inland Manufacturing offers a fully-automatic, “Advisor” short-barrel rifle (SBR), with threaded muzzle, and conical flash hider attached.
Major Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., in particular, carried an M2A1 “Shorty” into combat as a senior advisor to the South Vietnamese Airborne Division near Pleiku, in the central highlands. In one battle, he braved heavy, North Vietnamese gunfire to recover and treat a handful of wounded, South Vietnamese soldiers and escort them to safety, for which he was awarded his first Silver Star medal. Less than two years later, he led a South Vietnamese paratrooper assault on a Viet Cong position and was wounded four times by small arms fire. However, he refused medical evacuation or to relinquish command until the objective had been captured, and was subsequently awarded a second Silver Star, and a Purple Heart medal for his wounds. He later went on to become a famous four-star general.
M1 and M2 Carbines remained in active, military service globally until about 1973, when they were largely replaced by newer, more powerful, M16 and AR-15 weapons. They were often highly praised for their small size, light weight, and firepower, especially by troops who were unable to use a full-size rifle as their primary weapon, however, its drawbacks were cited as insufficient penetration and stopping power, which is hardly surprising for a defensive weapon never intended to see frontline service. Overall, the M1 Carbine series remains a legendary and classic combat firearm, still in high demand in the present day by collectors and reenactors.
For today’s M1 Carbine owners, Buffalo Bore ammunition manufactures “Full-Power” .30 Carbine loads, featuring 110-grain bullets (either FMJ, soft-point, hard-cast, or jacketed hollowpoint) at 2,100 feet per second, which is five percent faster than standard ammo, yet still with SAAMI specifications, and not classified as a +P overpressure load. But CorBon also makes a 100-grain, solid-copper hollowpoint (SCHP) in their DPX (Deep Penetration, with Barnes X-bullet) lineup that would make a fine, expanding, defensive load for anyone with an M1 Carbine. There are a lot of great options to choose from.
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Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism, and is an NRA member. He served in Europe and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, four college degrees, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He is currently a published author, historian, and hunter. You may visit his web site at: warrengray54.vistaprintdigital.com