50 Famous Firearms You've Got to Own: Rick Hacker's Bucket List of Guns (2015)
This IBM carbine was made in 1944 and was completely restored to its former glory by Miltech (www.MiltechArms.com), which returns each M1 Carbine in a protective, appropriately-marked pine chest.
It seems that the smallest guys are sometimes the toughest. Think Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, and Alan Ladd. And that’s pretty much the case with the 51⁄2-pound M1 Carbine, a welterweight, compared with its heftier 91⁄2-pound sidekick, the M1 Garand, but still able to blast its way to victory in World War II, the Korean conflict, and Vietnam. And, like all three of those actors, the M1 Carbine had impeccable timing.
On November 24, 1941, the United States Army signed a contract to have Winchester Repeating Arms Company and General Motors’ Inland Manufacturing Division start producing a newly designed rifle to be used by military support personnel. Two weeks later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. As a result, the M1 Carbine, like a new recruit fresh out of boot camp, went directly from the assembly lines into battle. In the process, it became the most prolific weapon of WWII, with 6,221,220 carbines made between 1941 and 1943 alone.
Initially, the impetus for the M1 Carbine wasn’t the threat of a global conflict. Rather, it was the fact that many of our soldiers couldn’t hit the broad side of a tank with the 1911 Government pistol. Specifically, it was battlefield support personnel, including medics, artillery and mortar crews, radio operators and NCOs and officers—soldiers whose efficiency would be encumbered by a weighty Garand slung across their backs—who were typically issued a 1911A1. But their effectiveness, not to mention their survival, was compromised by a pistol that far too few could shoot with any degree of accuracy. So, under orders from General Douglas MacArthur to modernize the Army, in 1938, a directive was issued by the Chief of Infantry to develop for rear line personnel a “light rifle” that would provide a longer sighting radius than the five-inch barrel of the 1911A1.
Interestingly, the M1 Carbine began with a concept by Jonathon Edmund Browning, the half-brother of John Browning, who had designed the 1911. However, the carbine’s final design was the result of concentrated efforts by a team of top Winchester engineers, including William C. Roemer and Fred Humeston, and supervised by Edwin Pugsley.
Even after all these years, Hacker finds his WWII-vintage M1 carbine still performs flawlessly.
Hollywood dramatically altered these facts in a 1952 movie entitled Carbine Williams, which starred James Stewart in the title role as David Marshall Williams. In that motion picture, Williams is credited with inventing the M1 Carbine almost single handedly. But, as Bruce Canfield points out in The Complete Guide To The M1 Garand and M1 Carbine (Mowbray Publishing), Williams’ sole contribution to the project was the carbine’s short-stroke gas piston system, which the convicted bootlegger and murderer invented while in prison and which he had initially adapted to the Colt .22 Service Model Ace five years earlier. That is not to belittle his genius, but, as a cantankerous iconoclast, “Marsh” Williams created dissension while working on the M1 Carbine at Winchester. He eventually broke away from the group to perfect his own version of the gun, which was not adopted, even though Pugsley admitted it had some advantages over the Winchester-approved design. But it was too late. The war was under way and production had been started.
The finalized version was known as United States Carbine, Caliber .30, M1, a sleek, pointable, and portable rapid-fire, gas-operated, magazine fed, semi-automatic shoulder weapon. It featured an 18-inch barrel that fired a .30-caliber straight-walled cartridge loosely based on the then-obsolete .32 Winchester Self-Loading round of 1906. Its 110-grain round-nosed bullet exited the barrel at about 1,975 fps, putting it on a par with the Winchester .32-30. Hardly a halftrack-stopper, but certainly adequate to keep the enemy at bay, should the possessor of such a weapon come under attack. Given the carbine’s 15-round magazine, plenty of firepower could be laid down, plus, its sights were quick to line up. Those sights initially consisted of an L-shaped, folding peep, but that was changed, around 1944, to an adjustable milled (later stamped) aperture. That same year, a bayonet lug sleeve, designed for the M4 bayonet, was added, although these accessories were only used after WWII, Hollywood depictions notwithstanding.
A later-style WWII carbine with milled trigger guard and safety lever.
Firing the new/old Rock-Ola carbine from James River Armory (www.jamesriverarmory.com), which is made with new Rock-Ola receiver forgings and a combination of USGI and Mil Spec parts.
Post-WWII carbines were outfitted with bayonet sleeves for the M4 bayonet.
To meet wartime demands, Winchester and Inland (both of which produced the majority of guns) were assisted by (in order of quantity: Hartford, Connecticut, typewriter manufacturer Underwood-Elliot-Fisher; the Saginaw Steering Gear Division of General Motors, which assembled carbines from parts made by the Irwin-Petersen Arms Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan; National Postal Meter, which had previously only made postal meters and scales; International Business Machines of Poughkeepsie, New York, the famous office equipment and computer corporation; automotive parts maker Standard Products, of Port Clinton, Ohio; and Rock-ola Manufacturing Company of Chicago, which silenced its juke box business for the war effort. Extra receivers were produced by the Quality Hardware Machine Company, of Chicago.
In addition to the standard M1 carbine, there were four variations. The M1A1 with its folding wire stock was a paratrooper’s favorite. The M2, with fish-belly stock and selective-fire lever on the left side of the receiver could go fully automatic, spewing out 850 rounds per minute. With two of its 30-round banana clips taped together, it was a formidable weapon. Equipped with a night scope, it became the M3, while the T3 featured an integral scope base for sniper use.
In 1963, about 240,000 M1 carbines were decommissioned and sold to NRA members for a mouth-watering $20 apiece. Later, during the 1990s, numerous “import” carbines also became available. Back in the ’60s I was working my way through school at the A. J. Bayless grocery store in Phoenix, Arizona, and didn’t have $20. But my buddy Jim did and bought one of the NRA carbines. I subsequently bought it from him and still have it today. It consistently shoots 11⁄8-inch groups, making it ideal for coyotes or plinking. All of which proves the M1 carbine can still accomplish any mission to which it is assigned.