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M1 Carbine Semi-automatic Rifle in WW 2

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M1 carbine

M1 Carbine. U.S. Army photo.

A Need for an Effective Personal Weapon for Support Troops

The M1 Carbine proved to be the right answer to a problem facing the Army just before World War II: the need for a personal weapon, more effective than the .45 pistol, for the increasing ranks of special military personnel whom it was not practicable to arm with the standard rifle...Only those who mistake it for a rifle will find it wanting.1

M1 Carbine carried over shoulder while setting up mortar.

Mortar team soldier with M1 Carbine carried over shoulder. National Archives photo.

During Hitler's aggressive actions in Europe, Germany's new mobile form of warfare, the Blitzkrieg, caused the U.S. Army to reconsider (among other things) the defense weapons of second tier troops. An effort was made to find a more effective weapon to replace the pistol - the usual selection for the troops supporting the front line. The search focused on a light rifle which would be small and easy to carry, have at least semiautomatic fire, weigh five pounds or less, and be effective at 300 yards.

Winchester had the winning design, and the self-loading, gas operated M1 Carbine began seeing service in the U.S. military by the middle of 1942. The new weapon fired a .30 caliber rimless cartridge with a 110 grain bullet.

The M1A1 Carbine with Folding Stock

M1A1 carbine

M1A1 Carbine with folding stock. U.S. Army photo.

The M1A1 version was the same as the M1 Carbine, except the former had a folding metal stock and could be carried in a scabbard strapped to the leg. This model was designed for airborne units in particular, allowing the paratrooper quick access to his weapon upon landing.

M2 Carbine with Automatic Fire Capability

The M2 version was designed in an attempt to replace the submachine gun. It differed from the M1 Carbine in that it had selective fire capability allowing it to be used as a semi-automatic or automatic weapon. It used a 30 round magazine which could also be used by the M1 Carbine as well. The M2 was actually more versatile and more effective – due to its longer range capability –than any submachine guns, which fired pistol cartridges.3

T3 and M3 Carbines

Another variant was the T3 Carbine which was developed late in WWII. An M2 Carbine with the receiver modified to mount an infrared night vision scope, the T3 maintained the M2 Carbine's capability of semi-automatic or automatic fire. The T3 variant saw only limited service, however, it was the forerunner of night sniper scopes used by today's infantry.2 Further improvements to the T3 resulted in the M3 Carbine which arrived too late for service in World War 2 but saw later service in Korea and a short time in Viet Nam.

The M1 Carbine could also be mounted with M8 grenade launcher, which worked in conjunction with the semiautomatic fire of the Carbine.4


The performance of the M1 Carbine has been much debated. It certainly lacked the power and range of the M1 Garand and did not have the Garand's stopping power. At shorter distances such as jungle fighting, it was appreciated for its ease of handling. However, the M1 Carbine was designed to replace the Colt M1911 pistol and the Thompson submachine gun, and here is where the comparisons should be made.

Some felt that the M1911 pistol had greater stopping power than the Carbine at close ranges. At distances of over 100 yards the Carbine was considered more effective than both the pistol and submachine gun. Support troops with jobs other than carrying a rifle, liked the M1 Carbine's small size and weight. And in the end it came down to a compromise between handiness and stopping power.5 Many felt that the Carbine proved to be successful as a personal defense weapon.


Success of the Carbine

Although the M1 Carbine was designed with the intention of replacing the pistol and submachine gun, it never succeeded in completely doing so.

The Carbine was successful, however, in its role as a defense weapon for support troops, and much appreciated for its portability and ease of handling. In great demand, over 6,250,000 Carbines were manufactured during World War II.

Later improvements enabled the M1 Carbine to be used in U.S. military service for twenty years beyond World War II.

1 Paul Wahl, Carbine Handbook: the complete manual and guide to U.S. Carbine, cal. 30. New York: Arco Pub. Co. 1964, p.77.
2 Leroy Thompson, The M1 Carbine. Oxford; Long Island City, NY : Osprey, 2011, p.68.
3 Ibid, p. 6.
4 Bruce N. Canfield. U.S. Infantry Weapons of World War II. Lincoln, RI: Andrew Mowbray Publishers. 1998, p.118.
5 Ibid, p. 115.

Also see on our website

Legion of Valor Weapons Display




Demand for the
M1 Carbine

Demand was great for the M1 Carbine during World War 2, and several manufacturing companies and contractors were used from 1941 to 1945 to produce sufficient numbers.

Of the ten firms which received contracts to produce the Carbine, Inland Manufacturing Division of General Motors produced the most (47%), with Winchester Repeating Firearms Company next, producing 13.5% or the total.

The M1 Carbine's gas-piston system proved very reliable, to foul less, and need less cleaning. This system would have an impact on arms design for the next 70 years.2