The M1 Carbine (formally the United States Carbine, Caliber .30, M1) is a lightweight semi-automatic carbine that became a standard firearm in the U.S. military during World War II and the Korean War, and was produced in several variants. It was widely used by U.S. and foreign military and paramilitary forces, and has also been a popular civilian firearm.

In selective fire versions capable of fully-automatic fire, the carbine is designated the M2 Carbine. The M3 Carbine was an M2 with an active infrared scope system.
300px-M1 Carbine

Development history

A Saginaw M1 carbine, made in Grand Rapids, Michigan, used by Marines in the Pacific Theater in World War II.The United States' M1 Garand rifle was originally developed to chamber a lighter .276 round, but this design feature was canceled in the early 1930s. The M1 rifle would eventually be chambered for the same powerful .30-06 Springfield standard round used in other service weapons of the time, such as the Springfield M1903, the BAR, and the M1917/M1919 machine guns. This left the Army without the lighter, handier rifle it had wanted; in fact, the new M1 rifle was a pound heavier than the old M1903 Springfield.

For many specialist soldiers serving in the rapidly evolving modern army just prior to World War II, the requirement of a full-size infantry rifle as an individual weapon had proved unworkable. This included service troops such as truck drivers, supply personnel, radiomen, and linemen, as well as frontline troops who needed a handier weapon such as paratroopers, officers, forward observers, medics, engineers and mortar crews. During prewar and early war field exercises, it was noticed that these troops, when equipped with the M1903 Springfield, often found their individual weapon too heavy and cumbersome. In addition to impeding the soldier's mobility, a slung rifle would frequently catch on brush, bang the helmet, or tilt it 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. On the other hand, pistols and revolvers, while undeniably convenient, were often insufficiently accurate or powerful. Submachine guns such as the .45 Thompson were more than sufficiently powerful for close-range encounters, but were heavy, limited in effective range (50-75 meters) and penetration, and were not significantly easier to carry or maintain than the existing service rifles such as the M1903 and M1 Garand. Army ordnance determined that a weapon for non-combat soldiers should add no more than five pounds to their equipment load, but nothing in the US arsenal met that requirement.

It was decided that a new weapon was needed for these other roles. While the range of a pistol is about 50 yards and the range of existing rifles was several hundred yards, the requirement for the new firearm called for a defensive weapon with an effective range of 300 yards, which would be much lighter and handier than the M1 Garand, but at the same time, have much greater range, firepower, and accuracy than the M1911A1 pistols currently in use, while weighing half as much as the Thompson Submachine gun.

In 1938, the Chief of Infantry requested the Ordnance Department develop a lightweight rifle or carbine, though the formal requirement for the weapon type was not approved until 1940. This led to a competition in 1941 by major U.S. firearm companies and designers. The prototypes for the US M1 carbine were chambered for a new cartridge, the .30 M1. The .30 Carbine is a smaller and lighter .30 caliber (7.62 mm) round, very different, in both design and performance, from the .30-'06 used in the Garand. The .30 Carbine cartridge was intermediate in both muzzle energy (ME) and muzzle velocity (MV). Essentially a rimless version of the obsolete .32 Winchester Self-Loading cartridge, the .30 Carbine had a round-nose 110 gr (7.1 g) bullet. From the M1 Carbine's 18 in (460 mm) barrel, the .30 Carbine cartridge produced a muzzle velocity of approximately 1,970 ft/s (600 m/s).

Winchester at first did not submit a design, as it was occupied in developing the .30-06 Winchester 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 ex-convict David M. "Carbine" Williams, a convicted murderer and former bootlegger who had begun work on a short-stroke gas piston design while serving a prison sentence. (This unlikely story was the loose basis of the 1952 movie Carbine Williams starring James Stewart.) Winchester hoped Williams would be able to complete various designs left unfinished by Ed Browning. Williams insisted on the incorporation of 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 was considered unreliable in sandy conditions. As a result, the rifle was redesigned to incorporate a Garand-style rotating bolt and operating rod. By May 1941, the rifle prototype had been shaved from about 9.5 lb (4.3 kg) to a mere 7.5 lb (3.4 kg).

Winchester contacted the Ordnance Department to examine their design. Ordnance believed the design could be scaled down to a carbine which weighed 4.5 to 4.75 lb (2.0–2.2 kg). In response, Major René Studler demanded a carbine prototype as soon as possible. The first model was developed in 13 days by William C. Roemer and Fred Humeston. It was cobbled together using the trigger housing and lockwork of a Winchester M1905 rifle. The prototype was an immediate hit with Army observers.[1]

81 mm mortar crew in action at Camp Carson, Colorado, April 24, 1943. The soldier on the left has a slung M1 Carbine.After the initial Army testing in August 1941, Winchester set out to develop a more refined version. This competed successfully against other carbine candidates in September 1941, and Winchester was notified of their victory the very next month. Standardization as the M1 Carbine was approved in October 22, 1941. Contrary to popular myth, Williams had little to do with the carbine's development, with the exception of his short-stroke gas piston design. As a matter of fact, Williams went about creating his own design apart from the other Winchester staff. Williams' final carbine design was not ready for testing until December 1941, two months after the Winchester M1 Carbine had been adopted and type-classified. None of William's additional design features were incorporated into later M1 production. Further, his patent for the short-stroke piston had been improperly granted as a previous patent for the same priniciple of operation was overlooked at the patent office.[2]

Another stimulus to the carbine's rapid development was a concern over Germany's use of glider-borne and paratroop forces to infiltrate and attack strategic points behind the front lines, forcing support units and line-of-communications forces into combat with the enemy.[3][4] Tankers, drivers, artillery crews, mortar crews, and other personnel were also issued the M1 carbine in lieu of the larger, heavier M1 Garand. Belatedly, a folding-stock version of the M1 carbine was developed, after a request was made for a compact and light infantry arm for airborne troops. The first M1 carbines were delivered in mid-1942, with initial priority given to troops in the European Theater of Operations.

Combat use

World War II

The M1 carbine and its reduced-power .30 cartridge was never intended to serve as a primary weapon for combat infantrymen, nor was it comparable to more powerful assault rifles developed late in the war. Nevertheless, the carbine was soon widely issued to infantry officers, NCOs, ammunition bearers, forward artillery observers, paratroopers, and other frontline troops. Its reputation in front-line combat was mixed. Some soldiers and Marines, especially those who were unable to use a full-size rifle as their primary weapon, preferred the carbine over the Garand because of the weapon's small size and light weight.

The carbine gained generally high praise from airborne troops in the early stages of the war who were issued the folding-stock M1A1, though negative reports began to surface with airborne operations in Sicily in 1943,[8] and increased during the fall and winter of 1944.[9]

In the Pacific theatre, soldiers and guerrilla forces operating in heavy jungle with only occasional enemy contact generally praised the carbine for its combination of light weight, short overall length, and accuracy at close ranges. The carbine's exclusive use of non-corrosive primered ammunition was found to be a godsend by troops and ordnance personnel serving in the Pacific, where barrel corrosion was a significant issue with .30-06 weapons such as the M1 Garand rifle and the BAR, though not to the same extent in Europe, where some soldiers reported misfires attributed to the weaker noncorrosive primers.[10] Other soldiers and Marines engaged in frequent daily firefights (particularly those serving in the Philippines) found the weapon to have insufficient stopping power and penetration.[11] Reports of the carbine's failure to stop enemy soldiers, sometimes after multiple hits, appeared in individual after-action reports, postwar evaluations, and service histories of both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps.[11] Aware of these shortcomings, the U.S. Army, its Pacific Command Ordnance staff, and the Aberdeen small arms facility continued to work on shortened versions of the Garand throughout the war, though none were ever officially adopted.

Some troops also found the .30 Carbine cartridge incapable of penetrating small trees and light cover, though it was markedly superior to .45-caliber weapons such as the Reising and Thompson submachineguns in accuracy and penetration. Lt. Col. John George, a small arms expert and intelligence officer serving in Burma with Merrill's Marauders, reported that the .30 carbine bullet would easily penetrate the front and back of steel helmets, as well as the body armor[12] used by Japanese forces of the era.[13]

Initially, the M1 Carbine was intended to have a selective-fire capability, but the decision was made to put the M1 into production without this feature. Fully-automatic capability was incorporated into the design of the M2 (an improved, selective-fire version of the M1), introduced in 1944. Parts kits T17 and T18 allowed the conversion in the field of semi-auto M1 carbines into selective fire M2 configuration.

The M3 carbine (a selective-fire M2 with the M1 infrared night sight or sniperscope) was first used in combat by Army units during the invasion of Okinawa. For the first time, U.S. soldiers had a weapon that allowed them to visually detect Japanese infiltrating into American lines at night, even during pitch blackness. A team of two or three soldiers was used to operate the weapon and provide support.[14] At night, the scope would be used to detect Japanese patrols and assault units moving forwards. At that point, the operator would fire a burst of automatic fire at the greenish images of enemy soldiers. The M3 with the M1 sight had an effective range of about 70 yards (limited by the visual capabilities of the sight). Fog and rain further reduced the weapon's effective range.[14][15] It is estimated that fully 30% of Japanese casualties inflicted by rifle and carbine fire during the Okinawan campaign were caused by the M3 carbine and its M1 sniperscope.

Korean War

The M2 Carbine continued in use during the Korean War. The weapon featured a selective-fire switch allowing optional fully-automatic fire at a rather high rate (850-900 rpm) and a 30-round magazine. The M3 carbine with an improved M2 (later, M3) infrared sniperscope also returned to combat, and was used principally during the static stages of the conflict against night infiltrators. The M3 with the improved M3 night sight had an effective range of approximately 125 yards.

In Korea, all versions of the carbine soon acquired a poor reputation for jamming in extreme cold weather conditions,[16] eventually traced to inadequate recoil impulse and weak return springs. A 1951 official U.S. Army evaluation of scores of individual after-action combat reports noted the weapon's cold-weather shortcomings, and recorded complaints by troops for failure to stop heavily-clothed or gear-laden North Korean and Chinese troops at close range after multiple hits.


The M2 carbine was again issued to some U.S. troops in Vietnam, particularly reconnaissance units (LRRP) and advisors as a substitute standard weapon. These weapons began to be replaced by the M16 in the late 1960s, and many M1, M2, and M3 Carbines were given to the South Vietnamese.

The M1/M2 carbine was finally replaced by the M16 in the mid-1960s. The M1/M2/M3 carbines were the most heavily produced family of U.S. military weapons for several decades, most of these being the M1 version.

Design and operation

A U.S. anti-tank crew in combat in the Netherlands, November 4, 1944. The soldier on the far right is holding an M1 CarbineThe M1 carbine bolt mechanism is similar to the M1 Garand rifle, though the carbine has a different gas system and trigger mechanism design. The gas system is a lightweight tappet-and-slide gas system. Initially fed from a 15 round magazine, a 30 round magazine was introduced for the M2.

The very first carbines, those made before mid-1943, were originally equipped with a "V-cut" extractor for removal of the fired round from the chamber. The "V-cut" design was found to be flawed and unreliable. In the field "V-cut" extractors were reground to a straight configuration, which enhanced reliability, until factory production was able to supply the better design.

The .30 Carbine cartridge was intermediate in both muzzle energy (ME) and muzzle velocity (MV). It is essentially a rimless version of the obsolete .32 Winchester Self-Loading cartridge.[18] The .30 Carbine had a round-nose 110 gr (7.1 g) bullet, in contrast to the spitzer bullet designs found in most full-power rifle cartridges of the day. From the M1 Carbine's 18 in (460 mm) barrel, the .30 Carbine cartridge produced a muzzle velocity of approximately 1,970 ft/s (600 m/s), a velocity between that of contemporary submachine guns (approximately 900 to 1,600 ft/s (300–500 m/s)) and full-power rifles and light machine guns (approximately 2,400 to 2,800 ft/s (700–900 m/s)). At the M1 Carbine's maximum listed range of 300 yards (270 m), its bullet has about the same energy as pistol rounds like the 7mm Nambu do at the muzzle. Bullet drop is significant past 200 yards (180 m).[18]

One characteristic of .30 Carbine ammunition is that from the beginning of production, non-corrosive primers were specified. This was the first major use of this type of primers in a military firearm. Because the rifle had a closed gas system, not normally disassembled, corrosive primers would have led to a rapid deterioration of the gas system. The use of non-corrosive primers was a novelty to service ammunition at this time.[19] Some misfires were reported in early lots of .30 M1 carbine ammunition, attributed to moisture ingress of the non-corrosive primer compound.[10]

Categorizing the M1 carbine series has been the subject of much debate. The M1 is sufficiently accurate at short ranges. At 100 yards (91 m), it can deliver groups of between 3 and 5 minutes of angle, sufficient for its intended purpose as a close-range defensive weapon. Its muzzle energy and range are beyond those of any submachine gun of the period, though its bullet is much lighter in weight and smaller in diameter than .45 caliber weapons, and much less powerful than those of other service rifles of the period. The M1 and later M2 carbine was never designed to be an assault rifle, such as the the later German StG44 and Russian AK-47, and the .30 Carbine cartridge gives up significant muzzle velocity (roughly 350 ft/s (110 m/s)) to both. Additionally, the bullets used in the cartridges of the AK-47 and StG44 are spitzer designs, and suffer less energy loss and trajectory drop at distances beyond 100 yards. Most authorities list the effective combat range of the M1 Carbine at around 200 yards, compared to 250-300 yards (230–270 m) for the AK-47 and StG44.


A United States Marine equipped with an M1 Carbine in the Battle of Iwo Jima, February 1945. An M8 grenade launcher can be seen attached to the muzzle of the weaponThe M1 carbine was used with the M8 grenade launcher, which was fired with the M6 cartridge. It also accepts the M4 bayonet, that was based on the M3 knife. The M4 bayonet formed the basis for the later M6 and M7 bayonet-knives. The carbine was modified from its original design to incorporate a bayonet, due to requests from the field. Very few carbines with bayonet lugs reached the front lines before the end of World War II. This modification was made to nearly all carbines during arsenal rebuild following WWII. By the time the Korean War began, the bayonet-equipped M1 was standard issue. It is now rare to find a non bayonet-equipped original M1 carbine. As carbines were reconditioned at arsenal, parts such as magazine catch, rear sights, barrel band with bayonet lug and stock were upgraded with the current standard issue parts, usually parts as redesigned for the M2 carbine. EAD.

During World War II, the T23 flash hider was also developed, which could greatly reduce muzzle flash; it was developed from an earlier model for the Garand.

Production and foreign usage

A total of 6 million M1 carbines of various models were manufactured, making it the most produced small arm in American military history. 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. Irwin-Pedersen models were the fewest produced, at a little over 4,000. 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 desireable for collectors.

The German designation for captured carbines was Selbstladekarabiner 455(a). The "(a)" came from the country name in German; in this case, Amerika.

The SAS used the M1 & M1A1 carbines after 1943. The weapon was taken into use simply because a decision had been taken by Allied authorities to supply .30 caliber weapons from US stocks in the weapons containers dropped to Resistance groups sponsored by an SOE, or later also OSS, organizer, on the assumption the groups so supplied would be operating in areas within the operational boundaries of U.S. forces committed to Operation Overlord.[citation needed] They were found to be suited to the kind of operation the two British, two French, and one Belgian Regiment carried out. It was handy enough to parachute with, and, in addition, could be easily stowed in an operational Jeep. These weapons continued to be utilized as late as the Malayan Emergency. Other specialist intelligence collection units, such as 30 Assault Unit sponsored by the Naval Intelligence Division of the British Admiralty, which operated across the entire Allied area of operations, also made use of this weapon.[citation needed]

A variant was produced shortly after WWII by the Japanese manufacturer Howa Machinery, under U.S. supervision. These were issued to all branches of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, and large numbers of them found their way to Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.

Numerous examples were obtained and used by the Israeli Palmach-based special forces in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Because of their compact size and semi-auto capabilities, they were given to reconnaissance companies of the Israeli Defence Forces.

It was also used by police and border guard in Bavaria after WWII and into the 1950s. The carbines were stamped according to the branch they were in service with; for instance, those used by the border guard were stamped "Bundesgrenzschutz". Some of these weapons were modified with different sights, finishes, and sometimes new barrels.

After the Korean War, the carbine was widely exported to U.S. allies and client states (such as South Korea, Taiwan and other European allies), and was used as a frontline weapon well into the Vietnam era. The M1 carbine was also issued to the Korean and Israeli military and police forces.

The M1A1 was also used by the French Paratroopers (such as the 1er RCP) during the Algerian War from 1954 to 1962.

The Police Field Force of the Royal Malaysian Police, along with other units of the British Army in the Malayan Emergency, were issued the M2 Carbine for both jungle patrols and outpost defense. The Royal Ulster Constabulary also used the M1 carbine.

Current military use

The Israeli police still uses the M1 Carbine as a standard long gun for non-combat elements and Mash'az volunteers. During the late 1990s, the police started to issue a Micro Galil variant called the Magal chambered in .30 Carbine, but after extensive problems with various malfunctions, they withdrew the weapon from service in 2001.

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a police battalion named BOPE (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais, or "Special Police Operations Battalion") still uses the M1 carbine.

The government of the Philippines still issues M1 carbines (together with M1 Garands, M14s, and M16s) to the Civilian Auxiliary Forces Geographical Unit or (CAFGU) and Civilian Volunteer Organization (CVO).

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