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Remembering the Great Little Winchester M1 Carbine

By: John Elliott

The early 1940s saw the need for a specialized rifle to equip second-line troops and specialists, such as machine-gunners. There was a rush to produce something lightweight, relatively small, easy to carry, and stowable in the vehicles troops may be using. Several manufacturers submitted proposals, and Winchester’s little “United States Carbine, Caliber .30, M1,” or, more simply, the M1 carbine, was the winning design.

The M1 used an unusual gas-operated system designed for a special .30 caliber cartridge. Its overall length was 35.6 inches; it weighed 5.2 pounds, had a barrel length of 18 inches, and all in all, was a very nice rifle. The gun was operated by tapping propellant gases from the underside of the barrel through a small hole into a sealed chamber cylinder. This process allowed the impinge on the head of the piston-like slide to move back, and thus unlock the bolt, extract the spent cartridge round, and compress the return spring – an action that would chamber a fresh round, and then lock the bolt once again. The explanation of the system may sound slightly complicated, but it really is fairly simple.

There is usually a lengthy “teething” process, so to speak, for a rifle to be used under combat situations. Not so with the M1, which was an enormous, almost overnight success. It was quickly issued to front-line troops and officers. To speed-up getting the rifle into the hands of troops, it was first pressed into service as a single-shot weapon. There was also a folding stock model (the M1A1) used by airborne troops. A variant capable of firing on full-auto soon followed and was known as the M2. The M2 had a cyclic rate of approximately 775-rounds per minute and used a curved box magazine that held 30 rounds. The same magazine could also be used on the M1.

The M3 came along as a specialized night-fighting version of the M1. It had an infra-red night sight that was quite effective. Winchester only produced around 2,100 M3 models, however. The total production line of all the models came out at around 600,000,000, making the rifle the most prolific weapon family of World War II.

As much as this writer admires the little M1, it does have its critics. The .30 caliber round, for instance, lacked stopping power, and because it was a carbine, it lacked extended range. Its effective range was touted as being in the 100-meter area, but I’ve witnessed the gun be pretty darn accurate out to about 200 meters. Beyond that mark, though, the bullet seems to drop pretty quickly.

After the war was over, the M1 went out of favor, and it didn’t arm the military forces of very many countries. An exception was The Royal Ulster Constabulary (police force) in Northern Ireland, which loved the M1, and armed their units with quantities of them. They were used to counter the IRA terrorists who used more powerful Armalites during the time of The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

You can get original examples of M1s today for next to nothing at some gun shops, and they are outstanding on the range, for small game hunts, or to get rid of vermin.

John Elliott is a forty-four-year veteran of law enforcement, writing from Illinois. Contact him at Inquiries@JohnElliottBooks.com.

Photo Credit: By Armémuseum (The Swedish Army Museum) - Armémuseum (The Swedish Army Museum) through the Digital Museum (http://www.digitaltmuseum.se), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17928224

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.