The Legend begins…

Last night, I was watching The Pacific on my iPad. For those not aware, it’s a sort of follow-up to Band of Brothers that focuses on the Pacific theatre of World War 2 and the various island hopping campaigns of the 1st Marine Division. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth watching, but it’s definitely not as good as Band of Brothers. So don’t get your hopes too high. But, back to the point. In episode for, young Eugene Sledge receives a care package from his father that includes a S&W revolver, apparently chambered in .45 of some sort. One of his friends says something to the extent of “don’t ever trade that, because a hit from a .45 will put a Jap down faster than a whole clip from your [M1] Carbine. Hit him in the hand and it’ll take his whole arm off.”

Smith-et-Wesson-1917-p1030108

It’s supposed to be a meaningful scene where an experienced combat solider explains to the green recruit “how things really are”, but I couldn’t help but laugh at the lines about stopping power. The gun given to Sledge is quite likely a Model 1917 S&W, which was chambered in .45 ACP and used half-moon clips to retain the rounds. It’s a great design, and one that served as a substitute standard for 1911s in both World Wars. But, we all know very well that no .45 ACP on earth will take a man’s arm off, and while that can be ascribed to hyperbole what’s far more interesting to me is the statement about the .30 Carbine round.

For years, the .30 Carbine has endured a somewhat checkered reputation. It seems that in World War 2, there were exactly two mindsets about the M1 Carbine: people either loved the light, handy little rifle or they absolutely hated it. The later Korean conflict would spawn rumors about the .30 Carbine not having sufficient stopping power, which was likely a result of using an FMJ projectile at a relatively low velocity. That would produce a very small wound channel, not like a modern .223 round or the .30’06 rifles of the day. But was the M1 really all that bad? The answer, as it is to many things is “maybe.” Like many ideas, it was a compromise.

20 years later, the military would get the rifle they didn’t know they wanted when they spec’d out the M1 Carbine; it happened to be the M16 and it has become our longest serving military rifle ever. As it turns out, the problem with the M1 was its ammo. When the “rules” of war restrict you to FMJ or non-expanding bullets, the M1 Carbine is like a really big .32 caliber pistol. Today, with modern JHP and softpoint ammo, an M1 could easily fill a niche as a home defense rifle.

12 thoughts on “The Legend begins…”

  1. My dad had occasion to shoot a number of people using an M1 or M2 carbine while he was in Korea, and again later in Vietnam. Has was a big fan of the carbine for use at 150 yards or less. He also used an M1 rifle in Korea, and noted that often the 30-06 didn’t do any more damage than the carbine rounds did.

    His theory on the “I emptied a whole clip into that….” type stories was that a lot of guys would go cyclic with the M2, and ventilate a whole lot of air around the guy they were shooting at, then blame the round for lack of “stopping power”.

    I’ll note that the Mauser pistol threw a bullet similar to what the carbine launches, but somewhat less powerful in external ballistics due to both lower velocity and a lighter bullet. That didn’t stop it from having a ferocious reputation in places like Shanghai.

    1. I’d have to agree with Chuck, here. I think a lot of the old legends that emerged with various weapons were more attributable to user error than anything else. Take the military issue 1911’s reputation for inaccuracy. It couldn’t have possibly been related to a bunch of people who have minimal training (certainly not much training related to combat use of the weapon) with a pistol then trying to use a handgun with piss-poor sights in low light conditions, right? I mean, it absolutely *HAD* to be a mechanical accuracy issue with the pistols and nothing related to the person behind the trigger. I think the same about the M1 carbine stories. The little carbine works pretty well, but in the dark with a bunch of crazy Chinese dudes coming at you in wave attacks in the dark trying to use iron sights I can absolutely see how guys would think that the enemy just wasn’t stopping when, in fact, they were probably missing.

      Most people when scared witless while holding a gun will point in the general direction of the bad guy and pull the trigger until the gun stops going bang…whether they can hit anything this way or not. Early in our current adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq this tendency made a reappearance, as I’ve heard lots of guys who served over there talking about seeing individuals just spraying ammo as fast as they can with no intelligent direction for the rounds.

    1. The .300 with supersonic ammo is more like a 7.62X39 due to bullet weight and velocity, unless you also consider that a .30carbine +P round.

  2. At least in the Korean winter the Carbine was being fired at guys bundled in layers of quilted cotton. So it wasn’t only punching through a pillow before hitting flesh, there was a decent chance it was punching through layers of pillow and completely missing the guy inside. A bunch of “hits” that hit only clothes are going to have negligible effect and few people are going to blame their own shooting when they see impacts.

  3. It didn’t help that a lot of Chinese & North Koreans would stuff scrap metal into their coats right before they were ordered into those human-wave charges.

  4. The War Department in early WW2 decided that to stretch the M-1 Garnds to front line soldiers, to come up with a light weight small rifle for behind the lines troops. ie, truck drivers, maint men, APO’s,, QM units. Also officers were issued the carbine for self defence. The reasoning is, that a .45 isn’t effective over 50yds. Under 100yds the carbine round is *adequate* for last resort self defence. And if an officer has to use a weapon, he’s not doing his job correctly. Airborne troops picked up on the carbine because they jumped with a minimum amount of ammunition for their weapon, and a smaller weapon means more ammo can be carried until they can find the resupply cannisters dropped with them.

    RHB

  5. Sure, the story on .45ACP stopping power is hyperbole — but well documented. (Hell, the same stories were floating around about the .45 when I was on the brigade pistol team as a young sergeant).

    The M1 Carbine REALLY developed its reputation for being a “poor stopper” with the M2 in Korea, especially in the winter of 1950-1951 when the ChiComs rolled in — as Chuck describes, SOP was flip the Happy Switch to “Horde Mode” and burn a full mag dump from the hip in one burst at a guy weighting 90-120lbs and bundled up in so much quilted cotton he looked like Santa Claus. REAL easy to miss the guy altogether, and the total target is EVER so much wider than the actual vital organs, even if you do manage to touch the shilouette.

    My Dad was a big fan of the M2 in an M1A1 (folding stock) stock when flying from firebase to firebase in Vietnam, because it stayed out of the way, but was adequate to get away from the scene of the crash. Certainly didn’t have any complaints on “stopping power” in EITHER Korea or Vietnam. . . but he always said the full auto setting was just to make them duck while he disappeared the other direction — “If you want to actually shoot someone, use the sights and single shots!”

  6. That statement about .45 acp stopping power was commen back then. Let’s not forget that many police were still using .32’s. The statement quoted is used almost word for word in the pilot for the old “Rookies” TV series. Which had a very anti gun theme, by the way. That hasn’t changed.

  7. Besides my colt single action
    My favorite is the S&W model 1917..i use them both regularly up to this time. I have modern firearms but i really enjoy these firearms. only are they historical, they are functional and i have complete confidence when i carry them in my farm or even in urban settings. I wish to leave this firearms to my grandchildren when i finally rest in peace…it’s a great life with these guns beside me in my ranch…the .30 M1 carbine is really anemic as per my experience in using this round against dogs raiding my sheep herd. New heads or slug improvements would improve this useful caliber

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