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U.S. Winchester M1 Semi Automatic Carbine
This early folding sight M1 carbine was used in the Pacific island campaigns in 1944 and 1945.
After the outbreak of the Second World War, U.S. Ordnance officers realized the likelihood that the United States would eventually become embroiled in the conflict. As attacks spearheaded by airborne and armored units replaced the static trench fighting of the previous war, it was all too apparent to these same officers that communications, supply, and other rear echelon soldiers could suddenly find themselves under attack by crack front-line enemy troops. The Army also realized the need for a new semi-automatic personal defense arm that would be more effective than traditional sidearms but smaller than a full-size battle rifle.
Specifications for the new rifle were issued; among these was the requirement that its weight not exceed five pounds. In addition, the successful design was to have an effective range of 300 yards with the new Winchester .30 carbine caliber cartridge, which would be fed from a detachable box magazine. In May 1941, several test models were submitted for evaluation by various firms and individual designers. Among those represented were M1 rifle inventor John Garand of Springfield Armory, Eugene Reising of Harrington & Richardson, whose submachine gun would later serve with U.S. Marines in the Pacific, L. H. Hoover of Auto Ordnance, manufacturers of the Thompson submachine gun, and Val Browning, son of John Browning, whose design was submitted by Colt.
Winchester had also been working with a design for a gas-operated semi-automatic rifle, but the company's involvement with M1 Garand production prevented it from meeting the deadline for submissions. Two designs were dropped outright because they failed to meet the Army's specifications, and the six remaining prototypes were evaluated at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in June. Although worthy of consideration, none of these initial submissions completely met the Army's expectations, and another test was scheduled for September. Encouraged by Ordnance officials, Winchester modified its experimental rifle to meet the Army's specifications.
In less than two weeks, Winchester engineers and designers put together a crude hand-made model based on a scaled-down Garand receiver and the short-stroke gas system invented by David M. Williams. The Army was favorably impressed with this design, but with less than six weeks before the second round of tests, the New Haven firm faced the daunting task of producing an operational prototype "light rifle" prior to the new deadline. Winchester accomplished this nearly-impossible feat, and when the smoke cleared, the company's entry emerged as the winner by unanimous decision of the testing officers. Designated as the "Carbine, Caliber .30 M1," this design had gone from design to hand-built prototype to adoption by the Army in only a few months.
The Navy and Marine Corps followed suit in selecting the new rifle for use by sailors and "Devil Dogs." Less than a month before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Winchester received a contract for 350,000 carbines. Winchester also agreed to authorize contract M1 carbine production on a royalty-free basis, and in turn, the government paid the company $886,000 as reimbursement for development costs.
After the U.S. joined the war against the Axis powers, the government subcontracted production of the M1 carbine. Ten primary contractors, including Winchester, I.B.M., and General Motors, assembled and delivered finished arms. These contractors also produced some of the required parts, but most of these were turned out by subcontractors. Production and allocation of parts was directed by a government-run "Carbine Industry Integration Committee," which ensured against both potential shortages and overproduction.
During its production history, several modifications were made to the initial design to improve performance or to speed production. Included were changes in the bolt, barrel band, stock, safety, magazine catch, and rear sight. Flash hiders, grenade launchers, and a bayonet mount were also available for use with the carbine as the war reached its conclusion. Standard production carbines were equipped with a full walnut stock, but a folding metal stock version, designated the M1A1, was also produced for airborne operations. Other variants include the T3, which was capable of mounting infrared night vision scopes, and the M2 selective fire carbine. Originally supplied with a 15-round magazine, the M1 carbine was also able to use the later 30-round magazines produced for the M2.
Over 6 million carbines had been manufactured by 1945, making it the most widely-produced military arm in U.S. history. Most of these were turned out by companies having no previous experience in firearms manufacture. These arms saw service in every theater of war, serving not only with support troops and in rear areas, but also with front-line Army infantry and airborne units, and with the Marine Corps in the Pacific. Although sometimes criticized for lacking the range and power of the M1 Garand rifle and its .30-Ô06 caliber cartridge, the M1 carbine outperformed the pistol and even the submachine gun, especially at longer ranges.
After the war, many carbines came home with their "owners" in barracks bags and sea bags as souvenirs of service abroad. Those remaining in military inventories were refurbished at government arsenals and placed into storage. Although the M1 carbine production lines were closed in 1945, spare barrels were produced after the war. Unlike the .30-Ô06 ammunition used in the M1 rifle, .30 caliber carbine ammunition was non-corrosive, which eliminated the need for an extensive carbine re-barreling program. Nonetheless, some carbines did receive new barrels as part of the post-war overhaul. The M1 and M2 carbines saw action with U.S. troops in Korea, and even though they had been officially replaced by the M14 in 1957, some were still in service through the early stages of the war in Vietnam. Several million surplus military carbines were also provided to U.S. allies throughout Asia, including the armed forces of the Philippines, South Korea, and South Vietnam.
Approximately 250,000 carbines were sold publicly through the Director of Civilian Marksmanship program during the 1960s, while others were destroyed by the government during that period. Commercially-produced copies were also available from Plainfield, Iver Johnson, and Universal, as well as from sources overseas. The M1 carbine did not replace the M1 Garand service rifle, but it was never intended to. Instead, it provided officers, airborne troops, and those serving in rear areas with a lightweight but effective offensive arm. The production figures for the carbine testify to its effectiveness in combat. Oliver Fisher Winchester was born on November 30, 1810 in Boston, Massachusetts. Although raised on a farm, Winchester eventually became a carpenter, and by 1830, he was a construction supervisor in Baltimore, Maryland. While in Baltimore, he entered the dry goods business, and after several years, Winchester became a manufacturer of men's shirts in New Haven, Connecticut. This venture proved to be sufficiently profitable that he began to extend his business interests.
In 1855, Winchester became a stockholder and director of the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company, a firearms manufacturing firm that brought together the talents of Winchester with those of Horace Smith, Daniel B. Wesson, and B. Tyler Henry. Volcanic produced lever-action repeating pistols and carbines based on the patents of Smith & Wesson. These two, who would later become famous for their revolvers, had followed up on the earlier repeating rifle designs of Walter Hunt and Lewis Jennings. Smith and Wesson sold their patents and other assets to the newly-organized Volcanic Company, and after a short time, both left Volcanic and began work on the first of many revolvers to bear their names.
The Volcanic's operating mechanism was very similar to that still used today in lever-action repeaters, but the guns were plagued by problems with their self-contained cartridges. These consisted of a hollow-based, powder-filled conical bullet backed by a fulminate primer plate. In addition to problems with velocity due to the limited amount of propellant available, these rounds also had the unfortunate tendency to go off prematurely, sometimes while still in the magazine. A further complication was the Volcanic's lack of an extractor or ejection system. These were not necessary when the ammunition functioned properly, but their lack created additional problems in case of misfires. Consequently, marketing and sales efforts were hampered.
In 1857, financial problems forced Volcanic into insolvency. The company's assets were purchased by Oliver Winchester, who by this time had become Volcanic's president. Winchester reorganized the firm and resumed operations under the name of New Haven Arms Company. Unlike others in the field of firearms manufacture during this period, Winchester's talents lay not as an inventor but as a successful businessman. This success would continue with New Haven, and it extended beyond financial matters to the staffing of the new company.
Among those hired by Oliver Winchester was B. Tyler Henry, who became plant manager. Henry had a great deal of experience with repeating firearms, having worked previously for various arms makers, including Smith & Wesson. One of his tasks was to develop a metallic cartridge to replace the inferior self-contained bullets chambered by the Volcanic. Others, including Daniel Wesson, were also working on this problem, and Wesson's .22 rimfire cartridge may have influenced Henry's efforts. By 1860, Henry had developed a .44 rimfire, and he then turned his efforts to modifying the Volcanic to load, fire, and extract his new cartridge. His subsequent patent for these improvements was assigned to the New Haven Arms Co.
The firm abandoned its pistol line and concentrated its efforts on the manufacture of lever-action rifles of Henry's design which also bore his name. The coming of the Civil War brought with it a great demand for firearms. Although the Henry, with its sixteen-shot tubular magazine and impressive rate of fire was a truly revolutionary rifle, conservative elements within the U.S. Army favored the tried-and-true single-shot muzzle loading rifle-muskets as a standard infantry arm. The government did place orders for a total of over 1,700 Henry rifles, and many of these were issued to troopers of the 1st Maine and 1st District of Columbia Cavalry regiments.
Many more found their way into the ranks through private purchase. These rifles provided Union troops with a formidable advantage over their enemies. At least one awed Confederate referred to the Henry as "that damned Yankee rifle that can be loaded on Sunday and fired all week!" In 1867, the New Haven Arms Company was re-organized and became known as the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, with Oliver Winchester serving as president, treasurer, and board member. The new company also introduced a new firearm, the Winchester Model 1866. These .44 rimfire caliber brass-framed arms were available in musket, rifle, and carbine configurations. Winchester still hoped to crack the military market, but despite the Henry's success and its popularity during the Civil War, the Army remained wedded to the single-shot rifle.
Nonetheless, Henry and Winchester Model 1866 "Yellow Boy" rifles found a ready market on the western frontier. The Indians referred to these arms as "many shots," and "spirit gun," which showed a measure of awe and respect for the products of the New Haven-based company. Many warriors were able to obtain these arms for themselves, and more than twenty of them were used against George A. Custer's 7th Cavalry and their single-shot Springfield carbines at the Little Bighorn in June, 1876. Winchester repeaters also found favor with miners, homesteaders, ranchers, lawmen, and highwaymen. Winchester's success continued with the centerfire Model 1873 and 1876 lever-action repeaters, both of which were available in a range of calibers and optional features.
The Model 1886 was a milestone for the company in two respects: it marked the first association between Winchester and designer John Browning, and it was also the first lever-action rifle capable of chambering big-game calibers, including the .50-110 Express cartridge. Other Browning-designed Winchesters include the Model 1885 single-shot rifle, Model 1887 lever-action shotgun, Model 1890 slide-action rifle, Model 1893, Model 1894, and Model 1895 lever-action rifles. The Model 1894 alone accounted for over five million sales and is still in production. Winchester was able to enter the military market in later years, with sales both to foreign governments and to the U.S. Army.
During both World Wars, Winchester-manufactured rifles and shotguns served U.S. and Allied troops in various parts of the globe. In addition to contract production of the U.S. Model 1917 bolt-action and the famous M1 Garand semi-automatic rifles, Winchester also produced the Model 1897 and Model 12 slide-action shotguns, as well as the M1 Carbine. In the civilian market, the bolt-action Model 70 rifle is still popular with big game hunters, and Winchester lever-action rifles continue to meet with sales success.
Under his leadership Oliver Winchester saw his company rise from near-bankruptcy to become one of the most successful firearms manufacturing firms in the world. He was a gifted businessman who was able to foresee opportunities and to make the most of them, and a skilled judge of people and their abilities, as evidenced both by the success of his company and by his association with men such as Horace Smith, Daniel B. Wesson, B. Tyler Henry, and John Browning. Declining health forced him to take a less active role in the affairs of his firm, but the company's continued success was all but assured by his vision and leadership. Oliver Winchester died in December, 1880 at the age of 70, but both his name and his company survive.
The Winchester Repeating Arms Company was acquired by Olin Corporation, which created U.S. Repeating Arms as the manufacturer of Winchester rifles and shotguns. In addition, Winchester arms were produced by Miroku of Japan. In 1992, U.S. Repeating Arms was purchased by Giat of France.