In 1938 the US Army’s Chief of Infantry Major General George Arthur Lynch requested the US Ordnance Department select and adopt a new ‘light rifle’ or carbine to arm support troops. The Ordnance Department eventually organised a competition calling for a new carbine design in October 1940. A number of companies including Reising, Savage, Hyde-Bendix, Woodhall, Colt and Auto-Ordnance as well as a simple design by John Garand.
Beginning in May 1941, the Light Rifle trials weeded out several of the more complicated carbines but were impressed with Garand’s carbine, however they requested that the 45 degree position of the rifle’s magazine be altered. In doing so Garand was forced to alter his design and the resulting rifle was less reliable than the first prototype offered. As a result the trials failed to find an adequate design among the submissions. One of the major companies not to submit a design during the first round of testing was Winchester, who were concentrating on .30-06 battle rifle designs.
Garand’s first .30 Carbine Light Rifle prototype, note the top mounted magazine (source)
The Ordnance Department believed that the M2 Rifle which Winchester had developed might be adapted to chamber the .30 Carbine cartridge. The resulting carbine prepared by Edwin Pugsley and a team of Winchester engineers was based on Ed Browning’s original M2 Rifle design with David Marshall Williams’ short-stroke gas piston and the M1 Garand’s rotating bolt and operating slide. At 36 inches long and weighing 2.4kg unloaded the rifle fired from a 15-round detachable magazine. Its elegant stock shape, rapid fire, minimal recoil and hardiness made it a popular rifle, especially among troops fighting in the jungles of the Pacific theatre.
The brilliantly illustrated contemporary diagrams above appeared in a series of instructional charts produced for the US Army by the Ordnance Department. These training illustrations show how to load and cock the carbine as well as how the rifle’s action works. Once fired gas is tapped from a gas port this gas pushed the short-stroke piston sharply rearwards. This drives the operating slide back unlocking the bolt, opening the breech and ejecting the spent case. The return spring, housed above the trigger group, then pushes the bolt back into battery taking up a new round and the operating rod back into contact with the piston.
The Winchester carbine was adopted in October 1941, just a month before the US’ entry into the war. Once the war began production was spread among over a dozen companies including among others: General Motors, the National Postal Meter Company, Rock-Ola, the Quality Hardware & Machine Company, International Business Machines Corp (IBM) and the Rochester Defense Corporation. The first carbines were delivered to troops fighting in the European Theatre in 1942, initially issued to support troops. However, as more of the rifles arrived they were increasingly issued to officers and squad leaders. While on the whole the rifle is said to have performed well it did suffer failures in cold conditions with reports of this occurring during both the Korean War and World War Two.
By the end of the Second World War a select-fire version of the carbine had been developed. The M2 would see widespread use during the Korean War and again in Vietnam. In this fully automatic incarnation the .30 Carbine round provided range and accuracy that submachine guns. like the Thompson and the M3 could not.
Over six million carbines were produced and the M1 remained in US Inventory until the early 1970s, many M1s and M2s were given to South Vietnam while many others remained with reserve units. The M1’s .30 Carbine cartridge is one of the Second World War’s most widely adopted intermediate cartridges positioned between the heavy hitting .30-06 and the .45ACP.
Another example of an old surplus rifle turned into hunting rifle, a practice that continues to this day. From a distance it would be difficult to discern this as an M1 Carbine aside from the magazine giving it away. It looks like a well done conversion overall but then again for the purists it would considered a “bubba” regardless. (GRH)