Springfield Armory M1 Carbine Part 1
An American Military Classic
By Dennis Adler
Ask 100 people what the most famous military rifle in American history is and you will hear M16 more than any other, and from a technical point, in terms of numbers produced, model variations, years in service and the number of manufacturers, they’re probably right. Ask the same question of 100 military arms collectors and you’ll get a lot of different answers, very few of which, if any, will be the M16. The M1 Garand and M1 Carbine will be among the majority, and for good reason; the M1 Carbine served the U.S military in WWII, Korea and throughout the first years of the Vietnam War. It is a part of U.S. military history in ways that the M16 can never be.
The M1 Carbine wasn’t considered a rifle by the military, that role was fulfilled by the M1 Garand; the M1 Carbine was regarded instead as a sidearm or personal defense weapon to supplant the M1911A1 for support troops, machine gunners, and soldiers who by the nature of their assignment did not need to carry a full-size rifle like the M1 Garand. It was later referred to as a “light rifle.” Of course, no one who shouldered an M1 Carbine in battle will ever say it wasn’t a proper rifle.
The design for the M1 Carbine was the work of the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. and based on a design by Ed Browning (John M. Browning’s brother) designated by the company as the “Caliber .30 M2 Browning Military Rifle. The design was revised by Winchester engineers using an improved firing mechanism developed by David Marshall Williams, better known today as “Carbine Williams” and famously considered the creator of the M1 Carbine. He actually did a lot of the work with Winchester’s design team (or in spite of them, as he did not get along with anyone at Winchester) but the final product that became the M1 Carbine was a Winchester design built buy Winchester. The internal design of the carbine and working parts were, however, developed by Williams for Winchester, and based upon the gas piston system he invented. Williams’ design used the exhaust gases from the fired cartridge to power the piston running a rotating bolt and operating rod to eject the spent shell casing and load a fresh round from the magazine. The M1 Carbine was a semiautomatic rifle. The select fire M2 and M14 were developed at the end of WWII and the M14 used during the Korean War. After WWII the M14 select fire model became the standard issue rifle of the United States military and was kept in service from 1959 until 1970, when the M16 officially replaced it.
All hands on deck
During WWII Winchester was not the exclusive manufacturer of the M1 Carbine, production was licensed to the Inland Division of General Motors, which produced 2,632,097 M1 Carbine models, including the M1A1 Paratrooper version with folding metal stock. Winchester built 828,059 Carbines (which were marked Winchester), and another 3 million plus were manufactured during the war under contract to the Saginaw Steering Gear Division of General Motors, Underwood Typewriter Co., National Postal Meter, Quality Hardware Mfg. Co., International Business Machines (IBM), automotive parts manufacturer Standard Products, and the Rock-Ola Mfg. Co., which produced 228,500 M1 Carbines instead of Juke Boxes during WWII. By 1945 a total of 6,221,220 M1 Carbines (including M1A1 Paratrooper models) had been manufactured.
The one name you might notice missing is Springfield Armory, at least as far as the M1 Carbine is concerned; during the war Springfield was building the M1 Garand but in 1944 Springfield Armory and firearms designer John Garand began development on a selective fire version of the M1 Carbine that would become the M14. The gun was developed but the war ended and production was curtailed. Springfield Armory ended up manufacturing M1 and later M2 (selective fire model) parts and was involved with the refurbishing of more than a quarter million WWII M1 Carbines by 1948.
A decade later, in July 1958, Springfield began manufacturing the M14 for the U.S. military and produced 167,173 guns by October 1963. The path from that point in time to today’s Springfield Armory M1A (civilian semi-auto version of the military M14) is a book length story.
The original Springfield Armory, established in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1777, was closed in 1968 and is now a National Historic Site maintained by the National Park Service. Today’s Springfield Armory in Geneseo, Illinois, was established in 1974, and among its many products, including Model 1911 pistols, has been the M1A semi-auto version.
War surplus M1 Carbines have come and gone over the decades (the ebb and flow dependent upon supply and federal laws over the years, which at one point prevented surplus M1 Carbines from overseas being imported back into the U.S.). Today, best condition WWII guns sell in the $1,500 to $2,000 range to upwards of $5,000 for exceptional examples. The military surplus M1 Carbine was also one of guns made famous by the Civilian Marksmanship Program, and the popularity of the M1 Carbine has never diminished. Modern versions of the original design, and upgraded contemporary models from makers like Springfield Armory are as popular as ever.
What has not been available until now is a CO2 model from Springfield Armory to use as a training gun or as a .177 caliber target rifle for backyard and field use. The M1 Carbine may be a part of history, but the future is just being written.
In Part 2, handling the CO2 model and velocity tests.