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.
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 carbines.
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.
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.
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.
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 ammo. 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.
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
|Speer 110-Grain JSP||14.0 H 110||1,943 fps||4.5 inches|
|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.