Rifle: U.S. Rifle M1 Carbine

M1 Carbine Tilt

Rifle U.S. Rifle M1 Carbine Manufacturer Numerous
Caliber .30 Carbine Overall Length 35.6″
Action Short Stroke Gas Barrel Length 18″
Magazine 15rnd or 30rnd detachable Weight 5.2 lbs


Suzie here to give you a little history lesson about one of my favorite darlings: the M1 Carbine, formally called the United States Carbine, Caliber .30, M1. It was my first, you could say. The first gun that I fired and thought, “I have to have one of these.” And I’m hoping that after you learn more about it, you’ll feel the same way.

As early as the 1930′s the US Army Ordnance Department began searching for a light-weight, intermediate caliber weapon to issue to specialized troops such as mortar, tank,and machine gun crews, front-line observers, artillerymen, engineers, and radiomen. It was found that the M1 Garand was unsuitable for these soldiers for a variety of reasons. The weapon was heavy and cumbersome and many special units complained that it significantly decreased their individual mobility. The M1911A1 and the M1917 revolver, while convenient, lacked ranged accuracy and power. The Thompson sub-machine gun was also a poor substitute, given that it was even heavier than the M1 Garand.

WWII Era M1 Carbine

Therefore, in October of 1940, the US Army requested prototypes from some twenty-five companies for just such a weapon. The requirements for submission were that the rifle be more compact than the Garand, and provide better fire power than the 1911A1. In addition, it should be accurate at 300 yards and add no more than five pounds to the equipment load already assigned to the soldiers. Seven of the original twenty-five companies responded by the following May. Winchester , due to requirements from its contract for the M1 Garand, did not participate in the initial project. No design was selected from these early attempts, so in Sept of 1941 the search began anew. This time, Winchester, on top of its obligations, was able to submit a design.

Though the M1 Carbine’s design is often attributed to David Marshall Williams, it was in fact based on a design by Jonathan “Ed” Browning, half-brother to the more famous John Browning (Yes, they were both named Jonathan). Williams was a convict who joined the project after Winchester hired him for his work on a short-stroke gas piston design. The short-stroke piston was added to the M1 carbine, and it’s true that Williams worked on an alternative rifle, but that prototype was not ready for testing until after the initial project was completed. The rifle that the military ultimately accepted featured a bolt group similar to that of the M1 Garand, but used a short-stroke or tappet gas system. Unlike the long-stroke system of the Garand, the piston in a short-stroke systems operates independently of the bolt group.

The US Army approved the design by Winchester and designated it as the “US Carbine, Caliber .30, M1.” Contracts were awarded to the Inland Division of General Motors, who began full production in January of 1942 and Winchester, who started the following September. Within four years, over six million were produced by the following ten major contractors and their subsidiaries: Inland, Winchester, Underwood Elliott Fisher Company, Rock-Ola Corporation, the Rochester Defense Corporation (which later became National Postal Meter), Saginaw Steering Gear Division of General Motors in Saginaw, Michigan, Quality Hardware and Machine Corporation, the Standard Products Company, International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), and the Irwin-Pedersen Arms Company who lost their contract in April of 1943 (this was taken over by Saginaw in Grand Rapids, Michigan). Of these, Inland was the largest producer with production numbers above two million. Inland was also responsible for the development of the M1A1 folding stock for airborne units and for the M2 selective fire design.

Operation of the M1 Carbine is reasonably simple for a semi-automatic rifle. Rounds are fed into the gun via a detachable, spring-fed magazine. The operating slide is pulled back towards the rear of the receiver. The bolt travels with the operating slide and cocks the internal hammer. When the operating slide is released, it chambers the first round and the bolt locks shut via two front lugs. When the trigger is pulled the hammer impacts a free-floating firing pin striking the primer of the cartridge, causing detonation. The gas from the discharging round races down the barrel, and a portion of it vents into the gas chamber through a small hole. The gas pressure drives a short piston backward, slamming it into the operating slide and forcing the slide backward. The spent casing is thrown clear by an extractor and spring-powered ejector within the bolt. A spring housed in the receiver shoves the operating slide forward again, stripping the next round and beginning the process anew. The only real disadvantage to the system is that it relies heavily on spring pressure, so the operating slide spring needs to be checked regularly for wear, such as flat spots on the coils. Special attention should also be paid to the spring length, which is 10 1/4 inches, since cycling problems are common if it is too short.

M1 Carbines Early and Late War POVs

The rifle also featured a two position rear flip sight with settings at 150 and 300 yards. This was adjustable only for elevation, however, and the military requested a another design that also accounted for windage. The new variant wasn’t approved until 1944, so it saw little action during WWII, but was standard during the Vietnam Conflict and the Korean War. The original sight was a simple flip dual-aperture design held in place by a spring. The first aperture was to accurate up to 150 yards and the second at up to 300. A soldier merely needed to toggle between the apertures to adjust for elevation. The later model featured a leaf that was adjustable for elevations ranging from 100-300 yards in increments of fifty that slid up and down the base. This version also featured a knob located at the right of the base that could be rotated to account for windage. The base featured marks that were used to zero in the sights.

The ammunition used was the proprietary .30 carbine- a non corrosive, jacketed, rimless round. Derived from the .32 Winchester Self-Loading cartridge developed in 1906, the first cartridges were made by trimming the rim of the .32SL, replacing the primer with a non-corrosive variety, and using a .308 bullet. The muzzle velocity was approximately 1,9500 ft/s. It was effective at about 300 yds. Today, the round is much the same as it was, although soft-point and hollow-point varieties are also available, and grain counts now vary from one manufacturer to another.

M1 Carbine Top

The magazine originally issued held fifteen rounds (later thirty round magazines were developed and issued with the M2 carbines) and was detachable by a small release on the right side of the trigger group. The safety on the early carbines was a push button design that was often confused with the magazine catch. The change to a rotary safety was approved in 1944, but not implemented until 1945. As an easy means of storage, a pouch that held two extra magazines was given to the troops. The pouch was intended to be worn on an M1910 pistol belt, but it was soon discovered that the loop was large enough to pass over the stock of the rifle and was nicknamed the “stock pouch.” Additionally, during the Korean war, troops began taping their thirty round magazines together end to end, so as to flip the empty one over and replace it with a fresh one. The military recognized the logic of the system and began issuing clips designed to hold two magazines together in just such a fashion. The rifle was also equipped with a sling, but unlike the Garand strap, it was not designed to stabilize the shooter.

Early M1 Carbines were not initially equipped for bayonets. Instead, troops issued the carbine were equipped with the M3 fighting knife. The M3 was 11.50 inches overall with a blade length of 6.62 inches. The blade was made of carbon steel, the earliest of which were blued, then later parkerized. The grips were made of leather washers. As the rifle made its way to the front lines, the troops requested that it be fitted with a bayonet so the M3 design was adapted and became the M4 bayonet . The M4 was 11.62 inches in length. An adapter was added to the rifle, the guard of the knife was extended and drilled to accommodate the barrel of the carbine, and the pommel was fitted with a locking catch. The blade and leather grips remained unchanged. Production of the M4 did not begin until late October of 1944, so few carbines equipped with bayonets saw action during WWII. By the Korean War, however, it was standard issue.

The rifle was praised for its weight and usability, but its front line report was mixed. Many soldiers complained that it lacked sufficient range, stopping power, and penetration particularly in the Pacific theater where cover was dense with vegetation. However, the .30 carbine cartridge was considered superior to the .45 and was much lighter which allowed troops to carry more ammunition. The non-corrosive primer was also praised because it lengthened the lifetime of the rifle. Despite its shortcomings, the M1 carbine was used widely during WWII, the Korean War, and even during the Vietnam Conflict. It was also sold or given to numerous countries allied with the United States. As of 2010, the rifle was still issued to police and military forces around the world, notably by Brazil, Israel, South Korea, and Taiwan. Howa, the Japanese machinery manufacturer, also produced a copy for their post-war military and police needs.

The influence of the M1 carbine was so far reaching that sportsmen began taking note of it for hunting small game and civilian copies were made available. It’s easy to see why. It is a pleasure to shoot; the rifle is light-weight, has little recoil, and dumping fifteen rounds as fast as you can pull the trigger makes any range day feel more fun. The ammunition is moderately priced and widely available, so if you’re not reloading, it’s still easy to find and stock up. I like to break in new shooters with this gun because it seems less intimidating than some of the others and every friend I’ve let try has come away grinning. It’s my hope that you do too. We’re currently working up a bank of images to help with identification. Check our Help Out page if you’d like to have any of your own guns photographed! Finally, I’d like to say a thank you to our friend, J.R. for his help and enthusiasm.


If you have an M1 Carbine see how to disassemble it here


5 Responses to “Rifle: U.S. Rifle M1 Carbine”

  1. PCShogun says:

    A very good article. The animations that you are including into the topics are what is making your project above par, in my opinion.

    An interesting note I learned was that the ammunition was “Non-Corrosive”. I found that interesting in an era where all the surplus military ammo I have ever seen had corrosive primers.

  2. Suzie says:

    Thanks for the kind words! Nagao has been working tirelessly to make the site more interesting, so keep the feedback coming!

    I agree with you on the non corrosive primer. It was such a major innovation and, in my opinion, what really drove the success of the rifle.

  3. DrakeGmbH says:

    The M1 Carbine is certainly one of my favorites. My grandfather carried one during WWII as he was the gunner on an M7 Priest. Hearing his fond memories of that rifle growing up put it high on my list of priorities when I could purchase one myself.

    I have some early .30 Carbine (.30 Winchester Self-Loading) cartridges as well as the other WSL cartridges. I can take some photos if it would contribute to the article.

  4. Maynard Altizer says:

    Hey Susie,
    I have a question about Carbine Williams. I have an adapter for the .30 rifle that uses .22 ammo. You insert the .22 into this adapter so that you could use it instead of the expense .30 ammo. This would save a lot of money for the services when target shooting. It was told to me that Williams invented this and that there are very few left in the world. Thanks for any help you can give me. Maynard

  5. евгений says:

    Мне тоже нравится этот карабин .Если бы были к нему патроны с остроконечной пулей то было бы лучше для дальней стрельбы .

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