The .30 Carbine: The Original Personal Defense Weapon

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearms, News

The .30-caliber U.S. M1 carbine was arguably the first of the modern class of lightweight personal defense weapons (PDW).Intended to arm soldiers who need lightweight arms, the PDW is a handy weapon that does not get in the way of other duties, such as driving a tank, manning a radio post or serving as an ammunition bearer. The idea was that the carbine gives soldiers an edge over a pistol. Troops normally armed with the 1911A1 .45 would be issued the M1 Carbine.

Two brown toned .30 carbines on a dark gray cloth background

Simple, reliable and lightweight the .30 carbine has a lot going for it.

Since the Philippine Insurrection, American soldiers had dealt with rear-area attackers. It is better to meet an unexpected attack with a short rifle than a pistol. The .30 carbine was designed to be more efficient than any handgun and not as heavy as the U.S. M1 Garand.

History of the M1

The M1 carbine succeeded famously. At just more than 5 pounds with a 36-inch overall length, the carbine is light and handy. The carbine was pressed into service on a greater scale than anyone had imagined in 1940 when it was conceived. The carbine vied with the submachine gun for the lead in short-range firepower, but it never replaced the pistol or submachine gun, although it was in greater use than either.

Wartime after-action reports and photographs from World War II clearly show that front-line troops on all fronts also used used carbines.

Multiple open boxes of .30 ammo on a dark gray background

The .30 carbine was the first American rifle that made carrying hundreds of rounds of ammunition practical.

After first envisioning the rifle in 1940, Winchester created the carbine after thorough and relatively fast development work. It made use of a tappet system developed primarily by David “Carbine” Williams. Winchester engineers also put a lot of work into the new carbine.

Like previous military carbines, the M1 featured an exposed barrel and short half stock. Unlike the earlier Trap Door Springfield and Krag carbines, the new U.S. M1 Carbine was not simply a short rifle chambered for a full-power cartridge. The new carbine featured its own unique cartridge.

The M1 carbine was also the first low-maintenance military firearm. Demands on the soldier to keep the piece running were relatively low when compared to other types. Since it was designed with a gas system not routinely field stripped in cleaning, the carbine had non-corrosive, primed ammunition. All .30 carbine ammunition had non-corrosive primers during a time when military ammunition was universally corrosive.

The .30 Carbine Through the Long Haul

When you look at the .30 carbine through the long haul, it was an important rifle and very influential. Best of all, the carbine proved reliable in action. Its 15-round magazine was a first for a soldier’s rifle and not only contained a good reserve of ammunition but also was exchanged quickly. Even the powerful and modern M1 Garand used a dated en bloc clip-loading system.

Two brown toned .30 carbines on a dark gray cloth background

A pair of carbines and a few magazines of ammunition make for a pleasant afternoon of shooting!

The only real problems with the M1 carbine were ballistics and terminal effect. In fairness, the carbine was intended for personal defense at moderate range. Dealing with sappers, preventing a machine gun position from being overrun, a tank being charged by grenadiers or an officer defending himself were the scenarios in mind when designers conceived the carbine.

The .30 cartridge was much less powerful than the full-power battle rifle cartridges. The bullet was not designed to break at the cannelure, and the cartridge did not produce sufficient velocity to ensure good effect past 100 yards. The .30 carbine was designed as an area defense or personal defense rifle and, in that category, it has performed admirably.

Interestingly, after-action reports from the Pacific are more glowing in terms of praise of the M1 carbine. The M1 survived World War II with its reputation largely intact.

When matched against heavily clad North Korean and Chinese adversaries in Korea, the carbine’s reputation suffered. Previously, in Europe, there had been some complaints, too many to discount. Within its design specifications, the carbine worked well; when pressed into action as a battle rifle, it was outclassed.

After-action reports from the Pacific in particular do speak highly of the carbine deployed within 200 yards. Perfect or not, the carbine saw use in every theater of operation in the hands of every unit, as well as in our allies’ hands, and was issued to German police after WWII.

The M1 Carbine was a success commercially with more than six million produced. We also made fully automatic carbines, known as the M2 and M3. We supplied the rifle in liberal numbers to many of our allies. It was still fighting in Africa and South America a decade or so ago. Photographic evidence shows the carbine was still a back-up rifle in Israel relatively recently.

After World War II

The Army did not procure the carbine after WWII because there were plenty of stores. Commercial ventures included the Universal, Plainfield and Iver Johnson carbines. While the commercial carbines vary in quality and many use cast rather than forged steel receivers, they often shoot well enough.

Two brown .30 stocks showing how you can change it to improve accuracy

A bit of careful stock work will improve the accuracy of the .30-caliber carbine.

For example, my Plainfield is tighter and more accurate than the Inland I often use. I prefer the Inland for hard use, even though it is more than 70 years old, simply because of its military heritage. Similar to the 1911 pistol, you may disassemble the M1 Carbine with only a cartridge case head.

The M1 Carbine often is fitted loosely. I read an old manual that said the carbine must keep its shots inside a 12-by-16-inch target at 100 yards. That is pretty loose, although better than a pistol. As a practical matter, the M1 Carbine usually groups 5 rounds into 6 inches or so at 100 yards, depending on how tight it is and how much work the shooter puts into tightening the barrel band and receiver-to-recoil plate fit.

My Personal Experience

My personal experience dates back to the 1970s when I briefly owned a Universal carbine. The rifle was not as accurate as my Winchester .30-30 and, while great fun, not powerful enough for hunting. Ammunition has always seemed overpriced for the carbine. I could not afford to keep anything that did not have a well-defined task, so I traded it.

As a peace officer, I often kept a Winchester .30-30 lever rifle in the trunk rather than the .30-caliber carbine. A few years later, a veteran deputy sheriff I respected showed me his personal emergency rifle, always kept loaded in the trunk of his cruiser. It was a GI .30-caliber carbine with a 30-round magazine loaded with Winchester 110-grain hollow points.

.30 carbine with a focus on the sights

The carbine sights are models of simplicity. They offer good accuracy potential well past 50 yards.

Numerous savvy shooters of the time kept carbines handy for emergencies. The rifle was so light, handy and reliable that it had a reputation as as a problem solver and excellent home defender. It took some time, and today, I appreciate the .30 carbine. I am enjoying an Inland carbine, the most common of the M1s, with more than two million made.

The original sighting equipment is still in place and deserves some discussion. The aperture rear sight is very fast on target and, coupled with the front post, gives a good sight picture for combat and precision shooting to 50 yards or so. By precision, I mean coyote and small game. You will find the sight well adjusted for 100 yards.

The second leg of the sight is for 300 yards, which is fine for area aiming and hoping to hit a man-sized target, although that is a stretch for sporting use. The .30-caliber carbine cartridge is interesting because it is, for all intents and purposes, as easily hand-loaded as a pistol round. There is some taper in the case, but it is not severe.

The cartridge is no bottleneck, and the cartridge case is 1.29-inches long. The standard loading is a 110-grain FMJ bullet at 1960 fps. Pressure is similar to Magnum revolver cartridges, 36,000 to 40,000 pounds per square inch. The .30-caliber carbine has the same energy as the .357 Magnum. Just the same, I have to report that the carbine did not produce the wounds that the .357 Magnum did at close range.

I have hand-loaded the carbine and will do more considering the high and rising cost of centerfire ammunition. The carbine is an economical plinker, particularly compared to the .308 Winchester and 7.62 x 39mm Russian, if you can find your spent cases.

A word to the wise: The open-mouth hollow points designed for the .32 Magnum may have the same nominal bore diameter, but they do not feed in the carbine, at least not in my Inland and Plainfield versions. The classic Speer Plinker 110-grain JSP is the trick in those rifles.

Hand-loading is simple and straightforward, using powder such as H 110, the same type commonly used to load .357 Magnum revolvers. I have heard about shooters using fast-burning propellants, such as Winchester 231, but I prefer to go with powder proven in long-term use and close to the original specifications.

I am well aware of the problems encountered with the M1 Garand when attempting to use relatively faster-burning rifle powder. While that is a completely different subject, I learned much from the Garand and will continue to use standard powder choices in self-loading rifles. The Garand will bend an operating rod if subjected to abuse. I do not know what the carbine will do, and I do not plan to find out.

 .30 carbine cartridge on the left and 12-gauge ammo on the right on a light gray background

The .30 carbine (left) compared to the .30-30 Winchester and the 12-gauge shotgun. It is useful but no powerhouse.

As for accuracy, the .30-caliber carbine is consistent. I have bench-rested several with Winchester 110-grain FMJ bullets and the new COR®BON  loading. While I would like to say my handloads lord over all the factory loads, that is not the case.

The factory loads consistently group into 4 to 5 inches for 5 shots at 100 yards. A reasonable goal for a good, tight .30 carbine is 4 inches at 100 yards. Most of my loadings have centered on reliable, low-cost recreational ammunition, and my personal handloads meet the 4-inch standard.

The .30 carbine is a self-loading cartridge, and you must produce consistent ammunition with a proper taper crimp for feed reliability and safety. The carbine is a docile rifle round, although it is a hot little number for its size. A bullet pressed into the case as a result of a poor crimp could cause pressure to skyrocket.

My Inland carbine was made in 1943, and the Plainfield in the 1960s. The Inland has seen hard use, evidently, so a comparison is far from fair, and the Plainfield does seem a bit more accurate on average, but the difference is slight.

The little guns have a great deal of history that I believe is overlooked. They served our GIs well not only in World War II but also Korea and Vietnam. Many state police officers as well as the New York City stake-out squads used them. Fighters in the South American banana wars also used them, and quite a few are still in use today.

The carbine is relatively inexpensive to obtain, maintain, shoot and enjoy. Just the same, it is a first-class choice for personal defense, close-range varmint shooting and just for fun.

The U.S. M1 carbine is one rifle I would not like to be without.

Inland Carbine Accuracy Results

Handload

Bullet Powder Velocity Group
Speer 110-Grain JSP 14.0 H 110 1,943 fps 4.5 inches

Factory Load

Load Velocity Group
Winchester 110-Grain FMJ 1,960 fps 4.5 inches
Winchester 110-Grain JSP 1,976 fps 2.95 inches
Speer 110-Grain Gold Dot 1,903 fps 4.0 inches
COR®BON DPX 2,011 fps 3.8 inches

Did you know how much history surrounds the M1? Do you have one? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

View all articles by Bob Campbell

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Comments (133)

  • Asa Vance

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    Personally I’ve never shot a M1 but do have a “don’t know what you have til it’s gone”. I went one weekend with my grandma to some yard sales, the people were friends from church and old friends from the town. The man had went the Monday after Pearl to in list, he lost his leg in the Philippines. You could look at the stuff set up and tell that his wife was responsible, nothing really major but still important to him.i came across a canteen cup that was packed with a couple of plain brown boxes and loss .30 Cal rounds with a inch of dust on top. I was only 10 or 11 and asked how much the lady said 3 bucks so I bought it, so happy to have a piece of ww2. Before we left her husband came out on his crutches to talk to my grandmother and seen what I had and asked “so your Jr’s grandson, you wanna see what those go to”? I obviously did. He took me to the basement garage /old man cave and reached in a dusty, dirty musty smelling corner and pulled out a old M1, it had surface rust and covered in cob webs. After a few minutes of handling the rifle he said that it didn’t work and needed something, extractor I think can’t remember, he never said this is my rifle from the war or how he was able to bring it home. After a few years past I’d see him when visiting my grandmother after my grandfather passed, and he was at the funeral in the ceremony. When I was 17 I stopped to talk to him one day and I asked about that rifle he said you know it’s in the same place it always been in go get it ,after a short visit and look at the rifle (worse shape than I remember) I said I got to go and went to carry the rifle back to its corner to waste away. After I put it back and was headed out to the car he said “what did you do with the rifle?” I said I put it back,”well go get it take it home with you” by God I did and was tickled to death. I didn’t know a lot about guns I know it was a Winchester, I did clean it up and slather it in oil but never tried to have it fixed. I had only one gun before and was never allowed to keep it in my room or hardly shoot it. That was a .22 short bolt action. After I started dating I never thought about those guns and when about 19 I let my uncle (that was always getting over on somebody) talk me into letting him take and try and fix the gun I agreed. It wasn’t until 2 or 3 years later that I asked about it and he said well I finally figured out what it needed and couldn’t afford the parts so I sold it. I was furious I said that was my gun you wanted to try and fix it, he said no you told me me I could have it and when I went and got it your mother(his sister) handed him the 22, he said no the other one so she went into what was my room and got it. Like a bandit he started talking about something else and left with both guns. She did ask if he was supposed to come by and get a gun I told her yes, her more than happy to get them out of the house didn’t care.
    Today I have a couple of guns including a early Colt M16 A2 with a newer single fire lower,1911.45, and a few other odds and ends. But still after 25 years still think about what I had.

    Reply

    • Rodney Steward

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      You never know what you have till it’s gone most of the time, great story Mr Vance!

      Reply

    • Asa Vance

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      Absolutely, buddy I can’t count the things I let slip away that I either didn’t know what the heck it was, traded or let a family member CON me out of it

      Reply

  • Dr. Ron

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    The most iconic photo of an M1 carbine was not a wartime photo – but one taken of Malcolm X holding one with two tactically wrapped magazines looking out a window at the street below: This was following several death threats he received after calling out Elijah Mohammed, the leader of the Nation of Islam, for having affairs with NOI secretaries and then leaving the NOI to start his own mosque:

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-rw0s_B7B6H4/UwX-8WBKoVI/AAAAAAAAHWw/toOg4GXCJhU/s1600/1964+with+gun.jpg

    Reply

  • Michael Thompson

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    IO have a Rockola I love shooting.

    Reply

  • tunnel rat

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    Have a Quality hardware import by, I think, blueskies.. Has a Choate folding stock. Shots great, can bust clay pigeons at 35 yds every shot. It’s always in my vehicle.t

    Reply

  • Melody

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    I carried a mi carbine on watch, Loved it accurate dependable and light. I wish I had one now. I do have a Ruger Black Hawk .30 carbine revolver. I find that ammo is a bit pricey. Here is one for you to try, set up a dead flat screen computer monitor at 35 feet. hit it dead square in the middle. It will stop the .30 carbine round fired from the Black Hawk revolver.

    Reply

  • Victor Buchheit

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    I have an Iver Johnson M1A1 that had a composite stock with a swing arm butt.
    It got broken by accident and it was replaced at No Charge because Iver Johnson gave a Life-time warranty on the Stock.
    I was pleasantly surprised that after me buying this M1 over 40 years ago that it was still under warranty.
    God Bless America !

    Reply

  • Frank

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    I was fortunate enough to acquire an “armorers special” from the Korean war. For those who don’t know what that is, put together from a lot of different weapons. I had mine checked out by a Navy “guy” that collected them and found out it was made of no less than 7 different manufacturers’ parts. One really nice part is the stock is from 1942 but the bolt is an M-2 model round-face and as a result will cycle faster than the standard M-1 carbine bolt…so I’ve been told. Can’t say that for a fact myself. It has a really nice original sling and it does shoot very well. Grouping is 3-3.5″ at 100yds. Even though it has seen action in two wars that I know of, it is in remarkable condition. Terrific varmit rifle…Take your pick of varmits.

    Reply

    • LEVELLER

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      €: Frank

      A “Frankenstein”!

      Reply

  • DarthVaderMentor

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    I just inherited my father-in-law’s M1 Carbine. During WW2, as a bomber pilot in the Pacific he couldn’t carry it in his B-24, so he only used it a couple of times to shoot Japanese infiltrators trying to blow up his aircraft in Saipan, Palau and Angaur. When he got called up for the Korean War he flew a DC-3 and would dynamite the airfields as we retreated from the NK initial invasion into the Pusan perimeter and later the Chincom invasion. As the last to fly out, he usually got attacked by infantry at the other end of the runway and his butt stock still has a Chinese hand grenade fragment. embedded.

    At age 96, he could still do a nice grouping with that M-1 carbine at 100 yards, standing up. I wound up getting the carbine because he wanted to be buried with it but Arlington wouldn’t allow for an O-6 with two DFC’s and a Silver Star to be buried with his personal ordnance so he gave it to me.

    Reply

    • Secundius

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      @ DarthVaderMentor.

      That’s “Absurd”, My father was a WW2 Veteran that held a “Brevet Lieutenant Colonel” rank. But was Buried as a “Major”, Given FULL Military Honors at Arlington back in 1997…

      Reply

    • Texsputin

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      @Secundius

      I think you misunderstood – he didn’t say they wouldn’t bury his father, just that his father couldn’t be buried with his personal ordnance. Therefore your father’s interment had no bearing on DARTHVADER MENTOR’s comment.

      Reply

  • 1 ab urbe condita

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    There’s a Company called Sandy Gun Works, which offers an FNH 5.7×28 “Spitfire” Iver Johnson M1 Carbine. Good for ~250 to ~300-meters, talk is that a 7.92×33 Kurz is in the works with an probable ~600-meter range.

    Reply

  • Cedwards

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    My Grandpa had a WWII era Para that was the second gun I ever fired. I wanted one for many years and finally came across Rock-Ola about 3 years ago. I love my AR, AK and other rifles, but this one ranks up there with my JC Higgins (Sears and Roebuck catalog) model 30 22LR (also from my Grandpa) as my SHTF rifle of choice. The heavy trigger-pull means you have to have intent to fire it, it never jams or suffers from FTF malfunctions, and it always hits what I aim at (medium to close range). Longer ranges are doable, as well, but with a little less accuracy. 200 meters is the far end of accuracy for my little carbine, but that’s what the scoped rifles are for. I love my .30 Carbine.

    Reply

    • Michael

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      Most M1 and M2 Carbines wear either 5 to 8-pound Trigger’s depending who manufactured them. The Lightest you going to find anywhere is 2-1/2-pounds. I can’t give any specifics, because there’s so many of them out there. But any Reputable Gun Smithy, should be able to do it at a Nominal Fee.

      Reply

    • Texsputin

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      @MICHAEL

      Do What for a’ Nominal Fee’?

      Reply

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