M1 Carbine: The Classic Warhorse

Winchester M1 Carbine

Not to long ago, a friend of mine was over, and we got into a conversation about the renewed interest in that ‘Old War Horse,’ the M1 Carbine. Seems like that ‘oldie but goodie’ will never leave us, and in my opinion, it never should. Other aficionados must feel the same way, because most recently, the Inland name has been taken over and given new life producing new M1 and M1A1 Carbines.

Winchester M1 Carbine
Winchester M1 Carbine

Who would have guessed that? Perhaps those noting all of the M1 Carbines released through the DCM, CMP, and the many commercial brands produced over the years that showed the demand for the quick, light, versatile, and fun to shoot carbine still couldn’t be satisfied.

My association with the M1 Carbine started many years ago, and to call it a love affair would not be too much of a stretch. My first and brief exposure was in the military where it proved to be a handy, light, and easy to operate and maintain companion. Now, I know there are many that, (in my opinion) give way to much credence to the stories of ineffectiveness in Korea where the M1 Carbine was called upon to fill a roll it was never intended to fill. To really judge the M1 Carbine, one must look at the original specifications. Only then does it become apparent why it is still so popular—almost 80 years after the Chief of Infantry requested that the Ordnance Department develop a “light rifle” or carbine.

In June of 1940, the Secretary of War approved and allocated funds for the acquisition of a light rifle. Winchester was chosen to develop the cartridge. The date set for the submission of designs was May 1, 1941. Nine designers and company representatives submitted designs; the one glaring omission from the entries was Winchester because of its commitment to M1 Garand production.

Fortunately for us, behind the scenes negotiations convinced the folks at Winchester to design and fabricate a prototype light rifle for submission. Using David “Carbine” William’s innovative short stroke gas piston, Winchester worked around the clock and the prototype was complete on September 12. If you are interested, the 1952 Hollywood version of the story can be seen in the MGM production “Carbine Williams” starring Jimmy Stewart. Testing began on September 15, 1941 and ended on September 30, 1941 with the Winchester-submitted design being unanimously selected by the Ordnance Committee.

Army advisor in Viet Nam carrying an M1 Carbine
Army advisor in Viet Nam

The M1 Carbine was originally intended to replace the M1911 pistol for those whose primary function was not frontline infantry or whose primary function was support. Examples would include the Signal Corps, those operating crew-served weapons such as mortar crewmen, machine gun teams, ammunition carriers, bazooka teams, radio operators, drivers, tank crewmen, artillerymen, officers, NCO’s, and those “in the rear with the gear.” Additionally, paratroopers were issued a specially modified version with a collapsible stock.

In all those roles, the M1 Carbine served admirably. Remember, it was to replace a pistol, and, in that, it excelled. It had better accuracy and penetration than the .45ACP fired from a pistol or submachinegun. It also had greater range, plus the ammunition was lighter so you could carry a whole lot more.

The cartridge it fired was based on the .32 Winchester Self-Loading cartridge introduced in 1905, but with new propellant and a 110-grain bullet it attained almost 2,000 feet per second and developed 967 foot pounds of energy. This made it much more powerful than the venerable .357 Magnum. Considering it was initially issued with 15-round magazines—until the 30-round magazine made its debut—that was a lot of rounds you could put downrange.

Certainly those statistics are enough to compensate for any critique of its stopping ability out to 200 yards or so. Hell, the .223/5.56 isn’t much better past 200 yards. It was also the first U.S. service round to make use of non-corrosive primers that development alone made maintenance easier and extended service life. It was apparent that Winchester had a winner.

Production Numbers

The M1 Carbine was the most prolifically produced weapon of the Second World War with over 6.2 million produced from 1942 to 1945. The specifications of which were:

Weight 5.2 lbs.
Length 35.6 in.
Barrel 18 in.
Operation Semi-automatic gas operated piston
Rate of fire 750 rds. Per minute
Caliber .30 carbine
Cost $45.00

The M1 Carbine is a shining example of the manufacturing might that the United States displayed during WWII, so a little non-revisionist history might be in order. This one example shows how great ‘The Greatest Generation’ truly was. With all of our current technology, we would be hard pressed to duplicate that manufacturing and logistical feat today.

Winchester ad for the M1 Carbine
Winchester ad

There were 11 prime contractors producing the M1 Carbine, of which only one was an established firearms company, Winchester Repeating Arms. Following is a list of the prime contractors and the number of Carbines manufactured by each:

  • Inland Division, General Motors 2,632,097 or 43%
  • Winchester Repeating Arms 828,059 or 13%
  • Saginaw Steering Gear Division, General Motors (At both Saginaw & Grand Rapids locations)  517,212 or 8.5%
  • Underwood Elliot Fisher 545,616 or 8.9%
  • International Business Machines 346,500 or 5.7%
  • Standard Products 247,100 or 4%
  • Rock-Ola Music Company 228,500 or 3.7%
  • National Postal Meter 413,017 or 6.8%
  • Quality Hardware & Machine 359,666 or 5.9%
  • Irwin-Pedersen (An interesting story.) 3,542
  • Union Switch & Signal (Made receivers only & assembled Carbines using other manufacturers supplied parts.) Approx. 35,000

Additionally, I have heard that as many as 1,800 subcontractors supplied parts and every part was marked with the maker’s assigned mark.

All parts of the M1 Carbine are truly interchangeable and that is one of the reasons original, “as issued” examples are so valuable today. Virtually all of the carbines currently in circulation have been rebuilt many times over with a potpourri of parts and they all function flawlessly. What a manufacturing tour de force? Another very interesting story on how it was accomplished of course. All that is not to say the M1 Carbine did not have its detractors though.

Here are the most notable reports of problems encountered, some of which are more substantiated than others:

  • The early reports of failure to fire stemmed from early lots of ammunition and were attributed to moisture. Remember, non-corrosive priming was a new technology, and some bugs still needed to be worked out when it was rushed into the field.
  • There were some reports of jamming attributed to weak return springs under harsh conditions, and that was also corrected.
  • The most damning criticism said by some was that the Carbine round had insufficient penetration and stopping power.

The comment about insufficient penetration was from both WWII and Korea. In its defense I would say, when the M1 Carbine was used as a frontline weapon, which it was not intended to be, the tendency was to compare it to the venerable M1 Garand. Remember, the Garand is a full battle rifle and an unfair comparison to the Carbine.

Rear Aperture Sight
Rear Aperture Sight

More likely, poor shot placement played a role in the reports of poor stopping ability. Rounds being deflected by brush and/or debris may also have contributed to stopping problems. Remember, it does not take much for a (light) 110-grain bullet to become distracted. I am confident that there are many more enemy combatants that succumbed to the carbine than those that did not. Additionally, I would say that the overwhelming praise for the ubiquitous M1 Carbine far outweighed the negative comments that numerically fall in the minority.

During the war, a number of manufacturing changes occurred with features changed and added. In this story is a photo of what the M1 Carbine looked like when first issued. It had a simple aperture rear sight that pivoted and flipped revealing two sizes for sighting at distances of 100 and 300 yards. This rear sight was modified and upgraded to adjustable sights with gradations for windage and elevation. The first was machined, the second made use of stampings to ease manufacture.

Another easily recognized feature was the barrel band, which went through three major changes ending with a bayonet lug at the end of the war. Most carbines received this upgrade after the war, so if you are watching an older war movie, you will often see the incorrect “post war rebuilt” carbine being used.

The safety also changed from a push button to a rotating lever. The magazine release is a push-type, and its close proximity to the safety is one of the reasons the safety was changed. G.I.s under stress would sometimes hit the mag release instead of the safety ejecting loaded mags. Not good when being shot at. The rotating safety fixed that problem. A small bar or protrusion identifies the later magazine release that was added to securely hold the more weighty 30-round magazines that debuted with the M2 Carbine, but that is another story.

Bayonet Lug
Bayonet Lug

There were other small manufacturing changes made during the course of production to speed things up and or to use fewer resources. Most are not worth mentioning at this time but are of interest to the collector. Some contractors, such as Underwood, even made their trigger housings from stampings that were then brazed together.


I guess, at this point, I should mention some of the variants of the M1 Carbine. I previously mentioned the M1A1 variant but I did not offer an explanation. The M1A1 was manufactured by Inland utilizing a folding metal stock and was intended to be used by paratroops. This variant has become a valuable collector—when all original, as issued specimens are encountered. The details one should be knowledgeable of for proper identification will not be covered here. That said, educate yourself if you plan on acquiring one because forgeries abound so buyers beware.

The T3 variant was made by Inland and Winchester and has an integral receiver bracket for mounting an infrared scope. This is a very rare variant and extremely pricey. Need I say, forgeries abound.

The most significant variant to the M1 was the M2. The M2 Carbine added a full-auto mode via a selector on the upper-left side of the receiver. Again, only Inland and Winchester made this variant adopted in October of 1944.

Now that you know a little about the history and creation of the M1 Carbine how does one explain the unquenchable demand for M1 Carbines 70 years later?

In the next installment I will try to address some of the issues regarding the M1 Carbines continued widespread appeal and popularity.

What’s your M1 Carbine story? Share it in the comment section.

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Comments (45)

  1. In Viet Nam I was a Medevac pilot flying UH1 in I corps. After a crash I found only those items attached to my body was going to going to get out of the helicopter in a panic situation I looked for a stouter weapon than my .38 revolver. I found a M 2 carbine that had been cut off in front of the fore stock and behind the hand grip and had a strap that I put over my neck and another that went around my body holding it tight to my chest.. Flying right seat I pointed it out the right window and out the left flying that side.. It was a personal weapon so did contravene the geneva convention protacols. Some crew members carried m 16s but it could not be strapped to me so I preferred the M 2 carbine. (I completed my tour with no further problems so never had occasion to actually need the weapon)

  2. i,m an old ex- marine, my old m-1 was made by Inland mfg div., general motors, 1-45. on the side of barrel, blue sky this appears to be stamped. i wonder if it was refurbished there? any m-1 collectors out there have any ideas or history on this? SEMPER FI

  3. Got my Universal from my grandfather. As far as I can tell, it was manufactured in the mid-60s and it has the scope mount.

    Took my first deer with it! Love the gun, especially since it ties my memory to my Grandpa!

  4. Picked one up from a dead sapper in Viet Nam back in 1970. The barrel had been cut down and the stock was cut off at the pistol grip. It was an M-2 selectable full auto or semi auto with a 30 round magazine. It had been treated very badly and in poor condition. After cleaning it up, I could only get it to fire a couple of rounds in full auto before it would jam. Could have been because of the magazine condition. Accuracy was non usable due to pitting in the barrel. I could only guess where he had gotten it from and had no idea how old it was. Turned it in to the company armory as it was unusable and only a curiosity to me.

  5. My father did 2 tours in Korea; the first tour he was an infantryman; the second tour he was assigned to artillary, and after a few months pushing 105 rounds, he became a bazookaman. In both the latter roles, he carried the carbine and loved it.

  6. I have a Plainfield, I believe an M1A1 paratrooper model. It doesn’t have a folding stock though. It has a wire retracting stock. The stock just sldes forward up against the pistol grip. It’s just a piece of wire so you can hold and shoot it just fine when it is retracted. I don’t know a lot about them, but I think it is a post WW2 model. I don’t know if this model ever was an actual military rifle or not. Maybe someone here might know something about it and let me know. One thing I do know is that it is a fun gun to shoot and I will never sell it.

  7. I had a Universal M 1 carbine that I used to teach my children to shoot as each one turned 10
    It was good for that purpose as it was light and had soft recoil
    It never worked properly as it had lots of failure to feed or eject no matter what magazines
    It was the original pistol caliber carbine before pcc’s were a thing
    Now the CZ Scorpion does everything better and for less money
    A reproduction or WW2 M 1 will cost over $1,000 and the ammo for it is $20 per box for brass cases fmj
    There is no good way to mount a red dot except to replace the fore arm with a railed unit
    There is no way to mount a silencer at all
    A CZ Scorpion costs $700 and 9mm brass cases fmj ammo is $10 box
    To mount a silencer, just screw one on the threaded barrel
    The M 1 is steel and wood and has history
    The Scorpion is an ultra modern blaster!

  8. Universal produced M1 Carbines to help finance the invasion of Cuba (as in Bay of Pigs) during the early 60s. I remember hearing the anguished talk over the Short Wave radio when if became evident that JFK, at his brothers urging, called back the promised air support.

  9. I bought my Sandy Gun Works “Near Copy” of the M1 Carbine 5.7×33 Johnson “Spitfire”, recambered to fire the 5.7×28 FNH back in the ’90’s. And restocked with a Paratrooper Stock as a “Stow-A-Way” or “Trunk Gun” for my BOB Kit. Great at Medium Ranges of ~400-meters, but is Easily capable of Ranges of 600-meters or more. Unfortunately Sandy Guns Works “Shuttered” their doors, and is Only available by IAI (Israeli Arms Inc.) as the M888. It takes Standard M1 Carbine Magazines if anyone is interested…

  10. The M1 Carbine is a great gun, a few months ago I was at a ranch in Calaveras County, California. The group I was with were taking turns trying to hit several three inch high bottles at about 75 yards and using a 7mm Mag with a 3-9 scope-no luck, not one hit. I pulled out my CMP M1 and hit all four targets one after the other with the peep sights. I had several of my friends shoot it and they were shocked at the flat hitting and repeated shots within 100 to 150 yards.
    I served with the 82nd Airborne during Tet, the Carbine was used extensively by special operations forces and the green berets loved the gun. I carried one when I worked as a police officer and it was a nice addition to backup the 12 gauge Remington.
    Most people forget that the AR platform was looked down on after the war in Southeast Asia, and now it is almost the holy grail of rifles worldwide.
    The M1 is reliable and happy to be feed just about any round-great go to gun in a fight. The Sybionese Liberation Army liked them-that is a different story.

  11. There were MANY M1 Carbines that were converted to select fire in the field by Unit Armour’s by just ordering the parts kit. Seen several in Korea and Nam.

  12. Check out this link to National Ordnance M1 carbines:
    My dad, a WW2 vet, bought one of these around 1970. These have been criticized for having a cast receiver. I had the gun checked out by a couple of gunsmiths before firing it recently, and it was great. These carbines were popular in the late 60’s and early 70’s with the police in Detroit and LA. They didn’t find any fault with them, as far as I know. Any comments?

  13. Had a US Postal Meter version M1 years ago, also got to try a Win 1907 SL in .351 SL , the best round of the Win .32,.35, then the .351 SL,that sent a 180 gr bullet at 1870 fps delivering 1400 ft/lb of energy.

    1. @ Phillip Gulett.

      I got my 30-round M1 Carbine magazine through “CTD” for ~$19.99. But try Gibb Rifle Compant of Clarkesville, TN. They specialize in Reproduction Mk.V Jungle Carbines in .303 ( or OOW (Ohio Ordnance Works)…

  14. Late in 1966 I was in Viet Nam and we had been issued carbines for their intended use (close defense); however, the Marines with us said not to use them as a lot of the local VC also carried them and the sound of them firing would attract unwanted/unfriendly action. Also, when you have a longer field of observation the 300 yard max effective range is not adequate, especially in the days of accuracy over quantity, why I would choose the Garand every time.

  15. A Navy submariner friend of mine is the nephew of Carbine Williams. I’ve heard several interesting stories about him. He helped win the war with his contributions.

  16. My father worked on the carbine assembly line at Inland right out of high school before being drafted in early 1943. His job was to adjust the sights of the carbines after range testing. These “targeteers,” who Inland taught to shoot the “Inland way” , used indoor ranges… 2 at 100 yards and and 2 at 100 feet. They then used a tool to adjust either front or rear sight according to the target results. Inland production numbers were amazing and a full 2.5M+ of different varieties in less than 3 years came from the Inland factory on Home Avenue in Dayton. The carbine is definitely fun to shoot… be sure to try one…

  17. I have my dad’s M-1 carbine, issued to him in the Navy during WW2. It is great to shoot. Looking forward to the rest of the articles.

  18. My father purchased a M1 Carbine made my Universal for me when I was 8 years old for me to use to deer hunt. It worked perfectly for me since the area we hunted, all shot were within 100yds. I was fortunate enough to take several deer with the Carbine. Each of my three sons started off hunting deer and have also taken deer.
    We have never had any type of problems with the rifle whatsoever. It shoots wonderfully and groups about 1 1/4″ at 100yds. I can’t ask for any better than that!

    1. 1 1/4″ groups!!! I was in the Army doing basic training in 1959. I liked the 30 carbine at 100 yards & at 200 yards it seemed okay, but at 300 yards I wasn’t pleased. We were shooting prone back then. We never got to see our targets up close. But 1 1/4″ groups tells me you’re one hell-of-a good shot!
      I wonder if you were shooting prone or from a bench.

  19. Bought one in 1971 with USGI canvas carrying case, 6 magazines and several hundred rds of ammo for $50.
    Kept it all these years had debating selling it numerous times due to lack of use, etc. A couple years ago I took photos and posted the parts info on a Carbine collectors Forum. Seems I have a “transitional” Saginaw S’G’ – Irwin Pederson and sits worth far more than I would have sold it for when I had thought about selling it. So it’s staying in the collection!
    Over the years I purchased 2 more Inlands, transferred one to my son-in-law and kept the other for my “shooter”. That one I found in small gun store in NV and paid $600 a year ago. Research with CMP stated it was on the CMP action, due to rarity of the parts and configuration and it sold at th CMP Auction in 2009 for $800! Sometimes you step in it sometimes ya don’t, I got very lucky with that one also!

  20. In 1964 I purchased a Rock-Ola from the DCM for $20 delivered to me. It is my favorite “rifle”. At 80 I can still hit the bulls eye at 300 yards. .

  21. I was issued an M2 Carbine when I was serving in the Air Force in Japan during the Korean war. I really liked how easy it was to care for and how reliable it was. I practiced it with at least once a week as I wanted to be proficient with it if I ever needed it. I wish I still had it, I must have fired thousands of rounds with it. I really liked the full automatic feature over the M1 which I was originally issued.

  22. “Carbine” Williams was a prisoner that apparently was a “Good Guy” and was allowed to design and build the weapon while in prison. He also made some sort of modification and or “kit” to Winchester Model 94s to be a semi or select fire.

    Eventually “Carbine” got a full pardon.

  23. Thanks for the article as as a 1943 Inland M1 Carbine is the only rifle I own. Trained with the M-2 variant just prior to going to Nam in late ’67 and again upon my return from Nam in early ’69.

  24. I carried one in the Air Force (Air police) from 61 to 65 before the AR’s were issued it was handy, easy to clean and reassemble mine was the M2 version and yes it was fun to shoot full auto ,Magazines lips were the biggest problem with feeding, a careful massaging of the lips and you were in business .I loved the little rifle ,and shot Expert with it at every qualification .

  25. As a 2 nd Lt in a Combat Engr company in W Germany in 1961/62, my assigned weapon was a 30 cal Carbine. However , the entire company was issued the M14 ( 7.62 NATO round ), and required to turn our weapon. That includesd the M 1 Garands of the Enlisted men, and the Carbines of the officers, ( except for the Company commander, who retained his 45 1911 pistol). As an aside, the Company was issued only 2 M 14 with automatic fire selector switches– as arms officer , I kept one with the selector switch). Generally the men dislwiked the 14, as compared with the M1 Garland. Likewise, I loved the Carbine for many reasons, including its compact size- which easily fit into my jeep.

  26. I love the article. I’ve always wanted one of these for my collection but could never afford one. (raising children)

  27. My first firearm, was a universal carbine given to me in a cardboard box. About 6 months of work, and alot of care and very few new parts I still have it today and it shoots amazingly.

  28. Correction: Don’t hate the caliber, just this cartridge! Not useful for any hunting, only for killing people!

  29. The article would benefit from the attentions of a competent editor, who could correct the spelling errors and educate the writer, thereby.

  30. A little story about my first time using the M1 Carbine.
    When I went to Korea the 1st time, I was up on the DMZ in the 7th Inf Div. Our basic weapon was a M1 Garand. I talked my Platoon Sgt into letting my take a class on the M2 Carbine, the select fire version of the M1 Carbine. We had 5 Carbines in the Arms Room, and they were not assigned to anyone. After the class, I was assigned a M2 Carbine. I enjoyed carrying it over the M1 Garand, which was much larger and about 2 times as heavy. The Carbine was rated at 300 yards, but better suited for a maximum of 200 yards. I was a Truck Driver so the compact Carbine was a perfect choice.
    A little story about my initial use of the M1/M2 Carbine.
    So after being assigned a Carbine as my weapon, I needed to get fully knowledgeable with it in every way. We had Battalion Guard, so I did some fast studying of the FM on Manual of Arms for the Carbine, which is completely different than a rifle, and closer to that of a 45 Pistol.
    So, there I am, the only assigned Carbine in the Battalion, on Guard Mount, and here comes the OD, a Lt, down the row, grabbing the M1s from the guys, holding them up to inspect them, then briskly handing them back. When he got to me, he stood there with a lost puppy look on his face, made a nice snappy right face, and moved on to the next guard. Now I was starting to really like the Carbine. After a couple more similar Guard Mounts, my Plt Sgt told me that I needed to use a M1 Garand for Guard in the future, but still use my assigned Carbine for for anything else. Seems the LTs had no idea what type of rifle I had, or how to grab and inspect it.
    From that time on, I loved the Carbine

  31. I have a M1 carbine made by Universal that I bought in 1973. It must be slightly different than earlier models. For one the spent brass ejects almost straight up. With a scope it bounces back into the action. The wild hogs I shot with it found out it was deadly but I often only got that one shot before jamming so I replaced it with a 30-06.

    It remained in my closet untouched for 30 years. Recently I decided to try it out. I grabbed it and a five round magazine and went out back (I have a large acreage). I chambered a round, aimed at a tree and it went bang. The scope had gone on the 30-06 and I had reinstalled the peep sight. With my glasses and old eyes I couldn’t see through that so I put a small reflex sight on it.

  32. I purchased one of these while still in cosmoline in 1968 f0r $100. It’s a cherry. I’ve put 4-5 hundred rounds thru it, but lost a place to shoot it at 4 years later & haven’t fired it since. It’s a fun gun to roll cans & plink with. I also believe it’s an excellent home defense gun. With the 100 grain half jacket Speer Plinker it should expand very well at velocities over 2000 FPS. Along with a 30 round banana clip, I see it as a winner. Even in a revolver the velocities match the 357, 41 & 44 magnums.

  33. I entered the service in June 1967 and began with the M16 which I carried to protect alert B52s and nuke storage. In 1968, our M16s were all taken away to be refurbished and shipped to troops headed for Johnson’s big buildup in Vietnam. In place of M16s we were issued M2 carbines. In the long run, I ended up preferring the M2 to the M16. The m2 was a nice straight line design, while the M16 had the carry handle on top and the magazine below. The most comfortable way to carry the M16 was with the barrel down… which we were not permitted to do unless it was raining. Carrying ammo was not a major problem with either rifle. I qualified “expert” with both firearms so I don’t consider shooting either one to be a problem.

    My next assignment was Vietnam, where I was back to using the M16, where I came to appreciate the carry handle. I did not appreciate it when I watched rounds ricochet off water, leaves, grass, etc. Years later, I saw the same problem with the M1 carbine.

    Years later, I used the M1 carbine for hunting and it served very well. Easy to carry, a good round, and I never had to worry about getting dings in the stock which a little sandpaper could not fix.

    Today, I have an AR15 and a M1 carbine. Both are good shooters.

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