Or The Name Most of Us Know It By, the M1 Carbine
As I have mentioned in a few past articles, I love historic firearms, especially those of American lineage. WWII weapons hold a particularly fond place in my heart because that era exemplified some of the best of what America has ever had to offer. Today I am spending some time looking at a couple of rifles that I really enjoy, my M1 Carbines. One of them is a shooter, the other is a safe queen. The shooter I purchased for a whopping $150 several years ago, and it is a pieced together rifle built on a commercially produced (National Ordnance) receiver from about 1960, and the remainder is all original G.I. parts. The safe queen is an absolutely immaculate Winchester produced rifle, which based on the serial number, was produced sometime between September 1942 and February 1944. The Winchester was a gift from my father so it has some sentimental value in addition to intrinsic value, and based on its condition, I am reluctant to shoot it, while the National Ordnance is, well, it’s just plain fun.
A Brief History
(This is info I cobbled together from several sources, including internet and print books, and may not be 100% accurate as some of the sources present different information)
At the end of The Great War (WWI), the U.S. military was looking at a plan to replace the pistols carried by personnel behind the front lines, like clerks, cooks, mechanics and so on, with a light rifle. They were concerned that the pistols would not offer enough power should the lines be over run and those folks were forced into combat roles. But, as with much of our military preparedness after that war, those plans were shelved.
Then came the rise of Nazi Germany, and the military leadership could read the writing on the walls. In 1940, they ordered the development of a new carbine to fill the role they identified many years earlier. Before they could have manufacturers develop firearms, they needed to establish a cartridge to be used, and the Ordnance Department enlisted the help of Winchester to develop the new cartridge. What they came up with was later designated the Cartridge, Carbine, Caliber .30, M1, now commonly knows as .30 Carbine.
Testing of the various submitted rifles, which included nine different guns from eight different manufacturers, began in June 1941. Some guns were immediately ruled out for not meeting certain requirements and the others continued on through the testing process. None of the rifles originally submitted were chosen, but several were asked to make changes and return for further testing. In July 1941, the ordinance department contacted Winchester because they were interested in a gun Winchester was working on for the Marine Corps, and requested a carbine version of that gun to include in the testing. In August 1941, Winchester submitted their rough prototype rifle, which was far from production worthy and contained many welded and brazed parts, for testing. That rough prototype successfully completed test after test. In September 1941, Winchester submitted a more refined version of the gun for more testing. The testing continued and included five other guns from other manufacturers. On October 22, 1941, the design submitted by the Winchester was selected and designated the U.S. Carbine, Caliber .30, M1.
During WWII, the carbine saw extensive use in all theaters and also saw several variants produced. The original design, the M1, has a fixed wood stock. Early in the rifle’s use, there became a desire for a folding stock version of the gun for use by paratroopers and thus was developed the M1A1. As originally designed, the M1 and M1A1 were a semi-automatic only rifle, but there grew a desire for a select fire version which was produced and designated the M2. There were many other experimental versions of the gun throughout the years, but those are the three main variants.
Soldiers were mixed in their feelings on the gun. They liked the light weight and handiness of the rifle, and were fond of the detachable box magazine, but there were some complaints about the effectiveness of the round, especially in the European theater during winter months where the enemies heavy clothing is claimed to have greatly reduced the ability of the round. Despite that one negative complaint, the M1 Carbine was produced in huge numbers with more than 6,000,000 made during the war. The M1 Carbine went on and saw use in Korea and Vietnam, where it was heavily distributed amongst the indigenous fighters who found the guns smaller size fit them better than the much larger M14 and M1 Garands.
The M1 Carbine is a very enjoyable gun to shoot, and for many reasons. It is a light weight, compact gun the shoulders well and points quickly. My postal scale indicates my particular gun, without a magazine, weighs 5lbs 9.5oz. The sights are typical for U.S. rifle sights consisting of a round rear ghost ring style aperture, that is adjustable for windage, and a fixed front blade with protective ears on both sides. On my shooter gun, I have added some bright orange sight paint to the front post to make it more visible, but even without that paint, it is not difficult to see given adequate lighting.
(I apologize for the cheesy background music. Finding something copyright free, that I am happy with, is proving difficult, so I reluctantly settled just so I could get this video done)
The recoil from the .30 Carbine round is mild and even smaller shooters should find it very manageable. It is not as light as say a modern AR-15, but is not much harsher. The standard box magazine for the M1 Carbine holds 15 rounds, but extended 30 round mags, which were designed for the M2 variant, are readily available as well. The trigger is a crisp single stage setup, and measured between 5.5 lbs (Winchester) and 6.5 lbs (National Ordnance).
My only real negative complaint about the M1 Carbine design is that the bolt does not lock open when empty. Some magazines are equipped with a follower that stops the bolt open when empty, which at least lets the shooter know they are dry, but as soon as that mag is removed the bolt drops closed. Aside from that, I really have no complaints. It is a great little gun that is a ton of fun to shoot.
Speaking of fun to shoot, another issue when considering that is expense. At the time I sat down to write this, I did some quick price checks on .30 Carbine ammunition around the web. From the same manufacturer, what you would spend to get 50 rounds of .30 Carbine, would only get you between 35-40 rounds of .223. Additionally, a few months ago, when no .223 or 5.56 could be found, .30 Carbine was still available. I’m by no means suggesting you run out and replace you AR’s with an M1 Carbine, but having another option, that happens to be historically significant to the United States, is never a bad thing.
With more than 6,000,000 M1 Carbines produced for the U.S. military during WWII, they are not difficult to find. However, original G.I. guns can command a hefty price. They are highly collected and some collectors will expect a premium for guns they are selling. You might get lucky like I did and stumble upon a decent shooter at a gun show for a reasonable price, but if you are looking for one and not willing to wait it out or pay the very high prices some collectors expect, there is yet another option.
Auto-Ordnance, who is currently owned by Kahr Arms, is making a faithful reproduction of the M1 Carbine. It is all new production and replicates the earlier M1 Carbines wherein it has the early rear sight and lacks the bayonet lug. My understanding, and I’m sure someone will correct me if I am wrong, is that it is built to original specs and parts are interchangeable with original G.I. parts. List price for the new Auto-Ordinance gun is $816.
As always, your questions and comments are welcome.
Be safe out there,