Crosman M1 Carbine – Part 1
by B.B. Pelletier
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Settle in, my children, for daddy has a long winter story to tell about the Crosman M1 Carbine. The opportunity to write this report is a gift to me, as much as to any of you, because I am fascinated with the M1 Carbine firearm as much as the BB gun it inspired.
A brief history of the M1 Carbine
Jimmy Stewart aside, David Marshall “Carbine” Williams did not invent the M1 Carbine. [Note to those who don’t get that reference: Jimmy Stewart starred in the 1952 movie Carbine Williams.] What he did invent was the short-stroke gas piston that made it possible for the carbine to work as it did. He worked for Winchester during the time they created the design that became the M1 Carbine, and he even worked on it sporadically, but he played only a minor part in the actual development of the gun that became the carbine (other than his essential short-stroke gas piston).
In fact, he designed an altogether different carbine that the government felt was even better than the actual M1 Carbine, but it came after the carbine was already in production and there was too much inertia in the program and time lost to make changes. Remember, there was a world war happening while the carbine was designed, tested, accepted and produced.
This is a very early Winchester production carbine in near-mint condition. Although Winchester designed the carbine, the Inland Division of General Motors was first to start building them. Winchester was second, and their early examples, like this one, had design features that were soon changed, making this a very rare rifle. It appears to be in unfired condition, with the exception of factory proof testing.
The M1 Carbine was requested by the U.S. Army in June 1940 as a possible replacement for the .45 pistol and later for the submachine gun, as well. As the requirement developed, it became a gun that had to be lethal on men to 300 yards (far beyond the effective range of the pistol in most soldiers’ hands), had to weigh 5 lbs. or less, and had to look and operate like the Garand that the army had fallen in love with.
The initial plan was for the carbine to be issued to drivers, cooks and officers who were not armed as heavily as most soldiers. Those who carried a carbine would not carry a sidearm like the M1911A1 pistol. In fact, the carbine quickly became very popular with more troops than they’d planned, and the demand rose beyond initial estimates. And many who got carbines kept their .45 pistols, as well.
In battle it was soon discovered that the carbine lacked the killing power the Army had hoped for. But the production program was underway and going so well they decided to ride it out–not unlike they did with the M16 in Viet Nam, when similar results were realized. After the war was over the government didn’t want to spend money on a replacement for the carbine, and new soldiers forgot the lessons of war, so the M1 Carbine soldiered on until well past Viet Nam. The same thing happened with the M16, which is still in use today, though the Army is looking for a larger-caliber replacement.
The development program of the carbine is a classic, not only of firearms but of any mass-produced technology at any time. From the first delivery in June 1942 to the last one in 1944, over 6 million carbines were produced, making it the all-time biggest production run of any U.S. small arm. This was the first weapons program in which investment cast parts were attempted for important operational parts (they didn’t work). This was a program in which a field expedient conversion to full-auto (for the M2 carbine) was so well-received by Springfield Arsenal that they adopted it as a standard. This was the first time a U.S. standard arm met with abject failure in one of its performance requirements and still soldiered on as a successful weapon for 30 more years (the carbine was never successful at launching rifle grenades).
And, finally, the M1 Carbine gave rise in the early 1950s to a .22 caliber centerfire round that evolved into the current 5.56mm round used by the current battle rifle. So, the carbine is the grandfather of the M16. If these short anecdotes are of interest, there’s a spendid two-volume reference set called War Baby and War Baby II by Larry Ruth that is the seminal reference on M1 Carbine history.
Last note on the carbine. In the 1950s, the NRA made M1 Carbines available to members for $20. The hundreds of thousands of guns that came into general circulation through that channel raised the interest in the gun to a high level.
A brief history of the Crosman M1 Carbine
In 1966, American interest in the M1 Carbine was 10 years into a national high that has never subsided. Crosman was already building successful lookalike BB and pellet guns, and they decided their V350 BB gun could be restocked to look like dad’s M1 Carbine. So, with a replacement wooden stock and some cosmetic metal parts, the engineers transformed the V350 into the Crosman M1 Carbine. They got the length just about perfect, the weight was within 2 oz. of a carbine with an unloaded magazine inserted (a loaded carbine mag weighs a lot, depending on the size of the mag) and the volume of the stock was only slightly less than the firearm. It was one of the most realistic airgun lookalikes ever conceived. It was so close, in fact, that some advanced collectors have installed Crosman M1 Carbines in genuine carbine stocks and even savvy firearms buffs cannot spot them without close examination.
The first year Crosman M1 Carbine had a slabwood stock. This is a later model with a more rounded Croswood plastic stock. Though it is more rugged and better-looking, the wood-stock model is rarer and commands a higher price.
In the first year of production, the Crosman carbine went into a wooden stock. It was slabsided and less real-looking than the plastic Croswood stock that came out the next year. The Croswood stock is dense, heavy and rounded like the firearm stock, but the overall appearance seems fake and plastic-y. The plastic wears to a shiny finish that isn’t true to a genuine firearm. But you almost have to hold the gun to see the difference.
This is a BB repeater that holds 22 shots in the gravity-feed magazine and hundreds in what looks like the magazine but is really a BB reservoir. About half the guns are missing their magazines, and replacements are not available. No collector in his right mind will part with a genuine Crosman M1 Carbine magazine–though they only raise the price of the gun by about $35-45 when they accompany it. There have been fake solid plastic placeholder magazines made in the past to complete the look of the gun. These do not hold any BBs and even they now command a fair price when you find them. It sounds to me like a great project for a guy with an idle CNC machine!
The magazine isn’t needed for the gun to function. The real magazine is built into the upper handguard and is functional even when the fake magazine is missing. But everybody wants that genuine M1 Carbine look, and the mag completes the gun.
The gun cocks by pulling straight back on the barrel until the sear catches. It isn’t easy for an adult to do, and nearly impossible for a youngster. So, kids often looped their fingers over the muzzle and front sight when they cocked the gun. Others pushed the muzzle in toward the stock with the palm of their other hand. If you think about the ramifications for accidents that causes, you’ll understand why the M1 Carbine ceased manufacture in 1976. It certainly isn’t a model they would ever bring out today.
The gun is 35-1/4″ long and weighs 5 lbs., 3 oz. It’s heavy for a BB gun, but that’s the price of realism. It’s also one of the more powerful BB gun mechanisms, with an expected muzzle velocity in the 350 f.p.s. region–hence the model name V350. There were two different types of peep sights on the M1 Carbine, and Crosman chose to copy the better adjustable type that was graduated for five elevation settings from 50 to 300 yards (for the firearm, of course), plus a knob-wound windage adjustment.
And there are numerous other innovations that, when summed up, make a collector really appreciate all the work that went into the Crosman gun. I’ll cover each of them as we come to them. I plan on giving this gun a complete velocity and accuracy test. When this report is finished, the gun will have a good reference point in our growing library.
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