A short time before WWII began, the Army started looking for a light rifle to arm support personnel and those who manned crew-served weapons. Typically, they were armed with the 1911A1 in .45 ACP.
The .45 pistol didn’t quite offer enough firepower, but carrying the M-1 Garand or the .45 Thompson Submachine gun was not practical due to the weight of those weapons. The soldiers in these roles needed more firepower than a pistol, but something that was light and handy so they could perform their primary duties. Ultimately, they needed a new rifle.
The Army’s requirement for the new rifle was that it be about half the weight of the M-1, chambered in a cartridge that was larger than .27 caliber with an effective range of 300 yards (or more). Within that 300 yards, they wanted the trajectory to be within 18 inches.
.30 Carbine Cartridge Development
The .30 Carbine began with the rimless .32 Winchester, which was introduced in 1905 and used in a semi-automatic sporting rifle. Edwin Pugsley, from Winchester, decided on a .30 caliber cartridge with a bullet weight between 100 and 120 grains. Muzzle velocity would be approximately 2,000 feet per second. Initially, cartridges were made by turning down the rims of .32 Self Loading cartridge cases. These were loaded with short .30 caliber bullets.
When the dust had settled, the .30 Carbine round fired a 110-grain .30 caliber bullet at 1990 feet per second. The muzzle energy was 967 ft-lbs from the M-1 Carbine’s 18-inch barrel. It is technically 7.62x33mm. As an aside, it’s interesting that the Germans later made the StG-44 in 7.92x33mm. It makes me wonder if they took note of the little .30 Carbine and loosely patterned their round from it.
The combination of the carbine and cartridge was a sort of, “Less than a rifle but more than a pistol,” type of proposition. To that end, it seems to have been a success.
It was ultimately issued to officers, paratroopers, armored crew members, mortar men, machine gunners, communications personnel, truck drivers, radio men, and artillery crews, as well as cooks and other support personnel.
Initially, the carbine was fed from 15-round magazines. Later, 30-round magazines were developed. Toward the end of WWII, the M-2 Carbine was released, and it was select fire (semi and fully automatic) with the 30-round magazine.
Over six million M-1 Carbines were produced by various companies, including the Inland Division of General Motors, Rock-Ola Jukebox Company, International Business Machines (IBM), and the Underwood Typewriter Company, just to name a few.
After WWII, the M-1 Carbine soldiered on in the Korean War, and later in Vietnam and a host of other conflicts. Surplus carbines have been wildly popular with shooters for decades; people seem to love them!
The military came up with four basic types of ammunition for the .30 Carbine:
- Cartridge, Caliber .30, Carbine, Ball, M1.
- Cartridge, Dummy, Caliber .30, Carbine, M13.
- Cartridge, Caliber .30, Carbine, M6.
- Cartridge, Caliber .30, Tracer, M27
.30 Carbine Cartridge on the Front Lines
I’ve known and spoken to some former military men who used the M-1 Carbine in combat. A few of them jumped into Normandy armed with the folding stock version. Everyone I spoke with thought highly of the little carbine.
One, in particular, was a mortar man who was enamored with the carbine. He liked the light weight and opined that the carbine was effective in combat. His only complaint was that the stock would fold up at inopportune times.
My neighbor used one in the Korean War and he seemed to like it quite a bit, especially appreciating the light weight and compact size.
And that’s how it goes from everyone I’ve talked to who used a carbine in combat. Interestingly, I haven’t heard any firsthand reports of the round’s so-called ineffectiveness. It almost makes me wonder if such reports are drastically dramatized, almost in the same vein as the M-1 Garand’s “Ping” when the clip is ejected letting the enemy know that the rifleman was out of ammunition.
I have read at least one account of Germans using captured M-1 Carbines during the Ardennes Offensive, which is interesting. Apparently, at least a few Germans thought highly enough of the little carbine to use battlefield pick-ups.
The Colonel Weighs In
Legendary firearms figure, Colonel Jeff Cooper, had some thoughts on the M1 Carbine. In a 1966 article that he wrote, he penned these words about the carbine: “…it was an attempt to replace the pistol for military personnel who could not pack a rifle and who could not hit with a pistol. I think it must be considered that this was a mistake.”
Personally, I strongly disagree with the Colonel on this one. I’d much rather have an M1 Carbine in a fight than a 1911 pistol. The carbine can reach out well over a hundred yards, and the pistol…well, it doesn’t have a prayer of being as lethal, nor as accurate, at any real range. It seems that Colonel Cooper missed the mark on that one.
At the heart of the matter is the fact that the .30 Carbine round has much more velocity than the .45 ACP, which makes it more lethal. It’s a fact that rifle bullets are more effective than pistol bullets.
We still see the .30 Carbine round in use today, albeit it’s not quite considered to be mainstream. Comparatively, the .357 Magnum 110 Cor Bon bullet, when fired from an 18-inch barrel, achieves velocities of around 1,718 feet per second. From this, we can see that the .30 Carbine roughly approximates the .357 Magnum in weight and velocity. While it’s not an exact match, it gives a rough idea of how it measures up to a more modern cartridge.
Tales have circulated for years that the .30 Carbine was not effective against enemy troops. On the other hand, the .357’s success has been virtually legendary. Since the two are quite similar in performance, it’s difficult to believe that the .30 Carbine was not at least somewhat effective.
Interestingly, the .30 Carbine round has about twice the energy as that of the .45ACP.
Of note is the fact that the .30 Carbine ammunition was the first round of WWII to utilize non-corrosive primers for a military firearm.
Granted, its weight and velocity fell far short of that of the M-1 Garand’s .30-06 round, but then, it wasn’t designed to match it. Furthermore, the M-1 Carbine weighs approximately half of what the Garand does. The tradeoff seems worthwhile, all things considered.
Hunters have been using the .30 Carbine round for hunting for quite a while. Some hunting pistols have even been chambered in the .30 Carbine round. Small and medium game, such as coyotes and foxes, have been hunted using this round.
A few companies produce ammo other than FMJ for hunting with the .30 Carbine. Prvi Partizan makes a soft point round that is 110 grains, the same weight as the original FMJ round. Underwood, Buffalo Bore, and Remington also make hunting/defensive ammo for this round. These hunting and defensive rounds offer viable options for those who want to use the little carbine as a modern defensive weapon.
At one time, surplus M1 Carbines were selling for $20 each. Ah, the good, ol’ days! With millions being made during the wars, they were almost literally a dime a dozen. But years went by, and now certain examples are fetching well over $1,000. Models with all matching serial numbers and no importer markings are going for top dollar.
It seems that regular folks like the carbine for the same reasons that the troops enjoyed it; its lighter weight and compact size make it an endearing design. Beyond its small stature, it exhibits very low recoil. It simply does not kick much at all, making nearly anyone able to shoot the weapon comfortably. There’s just a small push on the shooter’s shoulder. And that M1 action makes a very neat sound when it’s fired!
Muzzle blast is not offensive either, given the little cartridge. It’s very fast handling, too, because of the short overall length. In close quarters, users can maneuver the carbine quickly and easily.
People like the carbine well enough that a couple of companies have manufactured it in recent years. That alone speaks volumes for the popularity of this old design.
The .30 Carbine Cartridge in Other Arms
The M1 Carbine is not the only firearm to chamber the little .30 round. As far back as 1944, Smith & Wesson developed a revolver with a four-inch barrel that would fire the .30 Carbine round.
Ruger’s Blackhawk revolver is chambered in it. AMT had a pistol chambered in .30 Carbine for a time. The Detroit-made Kimball Arms Company pistol was another host for the round.
Thompson Center has chambered their Contender in this round as well.
Taurus chambered their Raging Thirty revolver in .30 Carbine.
A few companies have made modern clones of the M1 Carbine over the years too, keeping the design alive.
We can see that, over the years, a number of companies have chambered arms for the .30 Carbine round. It is, however, not optimal for handguns, considering that the length of the round is 1.68 inches and it develops 40,000 PSI.
These aren’t the only guns chambered for the .30 Carbine cartridge, but representative of what’s out there.
The Bottom Line
This old veteran has earned its keep through several conflicts and can likely still be found serving somewhere in the world at this very moment. Considering that there are several manufacturers who still make ammunition for the Carbine, it will be around for some time to come. There is definitely still a demand for the round, given all of its advantages and popularity.
Do I have enough confidence in the .30 Carbine cartridge that I pick up and use an M1 Carbine to defend my home today? You betcha! It’s going to work as well today as it did in the 1940s. I can live with that—but the home invaders might not be able to.