Surplus Review: June 1999

By Frank Iannamico

The U.S. carbine is one weapon whose classification is difficult to clearly define. Although the carbine has many of the attributes of an assault rifle, the cartridge certainly fits into the handgun category. The U.S. carbine borders on the submachine gun/assault rifle classification. The M2 carbine has a few features that differentiates it from most subguns; The carbine is gas operated and it fires from a closed, locked bolt. The carbine is much lighter than most submachine guns. It is accurate at longer ranges than other caliber subguns. Due to the carbines cartridge energy, it is disallowed in most subgun competitions.

The M1 carbine was developed during WWII to replace the pistol for soldiers who were not directly involved in infantry type combat. It was designed for those whose primary duties were not fighting with the service rifle, but soldiers that manned crew served weapons, artillery men, signal corps and so on. Each man in a machine gun crew, for example, had to carry a part of their machine gun and belts of ammunition for that gun. The added weight of a full size M1 Garand and clips of 30.06 ammo was simply too much for them to carry. The only other option was the .45 pistol, a purely defensive weapon. The carbine was conceived to provide an offensive weapon that would be handier and much lighter than a full power battle rifle.

The original requirements for the U.S. carbine included a desire for a select fire feature, this requirement was soon dropped. The select fire M2 would not be fully developed until very late in WWII. There were known to be many unauthorized field conversions performed by GI’s who had some limited knowledge of gunsmithing. These carbines were probably more dangerous to the shooter than the enemy.

Few soldiers could be sufficiently trained to shoot a handgun proficiently, and the pistol was a defensive close range firearm. The carbine offered a 200 yard range and a 15 round (later 30 round) magazine. The .45 1911 pistol on the other hand held 7 rounds and few soldiers could effectively use it past 25 yards. It is considered advantageous to engage an enemy at 200 yards as opposed to 25 yards.

The M1 carbine has often been criticized , because of its cartridge, as being underpowered. Compared to all the 9mm European and 7.62 Russian submachine guns used in WWII, the carbine is certainly more powerful, but how often do you hear of the aforementioned submachine guns being criticized as under powered? Never the less, the full automatic M2 version increased the chance of multiple hits on the enemy therefore increasing its lethality.

The firepower of the M1 carbine was greatly increased with the introduction of the select fire M2 version. The M2 was put in production late in WWII. Original M2’s were only manufactured by Inland (199,500 M2 carbines), and Winchester (17,500 M2 carbines). Original M2s all have high serial numbers over 6,000,000. There were a few very early Inland M2s manufactured with six digit serial numbers beginning with zero. There were no paratrooper M1A1 carbines originally manufactured as full auto M2’s.

Early M2’s were marked by over stamping the numeral #1 on the breech. Later manufactured M2s were machine marked “M2”. Many existing M1s were converted to M2 configuration by military armorers using the T17 conversion kit. Some of these conversions were remarked by overstamping the number 1 with a 2 on the receiver. During the Korean war many M1s were converted to the M2 configuration. Many more M1s were converted during arsenal rebuilding programs.

Purchasers of any M2 parts should be forewarned that possession of certain M2 parts, just the parts, is a felony. The parts are; M2 hammer, disconnect lever, sear, selector, selector spring, disconnector, and disconnector plunger assembly. A carbine actually will not fire fully automatic with just the aforementioned parts, there are several other parts required to complete the conversion.

Any U.S. .30 carbine that has M2 stamped on the breech is considered a machine gun. Even if all the full auto parts have been removed, and the gun is only able to fire semi-automatic. The BATF says “Once a machine gun, always a machine gun”.

For the collector/shooter there will be several options available for M2 carbine purchasers.

1. Original Inland or Winchester M2 marked carbines. These carbines will have high serial numbers. Original M2s are relatively rare and command a high price. They are on the Curio and Relics list.

2. M1 carbines manufactured by other government contractors ie: Rockola, Saginaw, IBM, Underwood, Postal Meter, Quality Hardware, Standard Products, Irwin Pederson, Inland or Winchester. If an M1 carbine was converted by the U.S. government during its military service, it would be considered a Curio and Relic. The ORIGINAL manufacturer should be listed as the manufacturer on the registration form.

3. M1 carbines that were converted to the M2 configuration by a class II manufacturer or by an individual on a form 1. These carbines will list the person or class II manufacturer on the registration form as the manufacturer or remanufacturer. These guns are NOT considered Curio and Relic guns.

4. M2 conversion kits. These kits usually consist of only the seven parts the BATF considers a machine gun by themselves, however additional parts are needed to complete the conversion. When purchasing, ask if the kit includes ALL the parts needed. One advantage to the kits is they can be used in any carbine you may already own. The registered kit or a carbine with a kit installed is not considered a Curio and Relic.

5. Aftermarket carbines. There have been many companies that have made M1 carbine copies for civilian sales. Many early copies used surplus G.I. parts, others used investment cast parts. Some aftermarket carbines are designed differently than the originals, GI parts will not interchange with those carbines. (Most notably Plainfield & Universal). Some aftermarket manufacturers made select fire M2s for police sales. Many aftermarket carbines were converted and registered as select fire M2s prior to 1986. These carbines are not Curio or Relics.

Beware of carbine receivers that have been demilled, and rewelded! In the post WWII years many returning GIs had a desire to own a carbine. Originals would not be available for many years. The demand for M1s was partially filled by repairing scrapped guns that had their receivers cut into pieces.

The M2 carbine makes an excellent shooter/collectible firearm. They are very reasonably priced, especially post war conversions. A conversion is mechanically similar to an original. The receivers require no machining or alterations. The M2 is simply an M1 with a few different parts to make it into a select fire weapon.

The carbine has often been criticized as being unreliable, and fragile. While this may have been true under harsh combat conditions it should present no problems for today’s collector/shooter.

Carbines have often been criticized as being unreliable as a recreational shooter, especially with a 30 round magazine. There are several factors that could contribute to an unreliable M2 carbine; aftermarket parts and magazines or worn parts. A common problem with a full auto carbine is failure to eject the spent cases. Replacement of the ejector spring and plunger assembly usually will fix the problem. A special tool is required to remove these parts from the bolt. While you are disassembling the bolt it would be a good opportunity to carefully examine the extractor and spring, another common source of carbine ejection problems. Replace worn parts with new GI surplus.

There are some very poorly made aftermarket 30 round magazines. It is suggested for reliability that you use only original U.S. GI magazines. Original mags will be marked AI, KI, SEY or J. Aftermarket magazines are often unmarked. There are a few magazines made by foreign governments for carbines that were given to them by the U.S. as military aid. Some of these magazines work very well. They are unmarked, but are of high quality manufacture and finish. If you closely examine the “nubs” that hold the magazine in the rifle you will see evidence of flame hardening. Original 15 round magazines are very plentiful and inexpensive. As with the GI 30 round mags the original 15 round mags will be marked with any one of many contractor codes. The M2 carbine has a special magazine catch to help support the additional weight of a loaded 30 round magazine. The 30 round magazines have an additional “nub” that the latch supports.

There have been many aftermarket parts made for the carbine. All original U.S. GI parts will be marked with the contractors codes. Original G.I. parts are the best choice for reliable operation. Recently a lot of brand new G.I. parts have come on the market. These parts were manufactured as spares during WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.

Barrels, stocks and internal parts, as well as complete parts kits are available. As mentioned earlier, be sure you are buying original parts. A few examples of original U.S. GI codes would be letter manufacturer codes such as W for Winchester, SA for Springfield Armory etc. Many foreign governments made carbine parts. The quality of these parts would depend on the country that made them. Some American aftermarket carbine manufacturers made carbine parts for foreign governments as well. NOTE: Many M2 parts were made by various contractors. Some existing supplies of M1 trigger housings, and hammers were converted to the M2 configuration.

Early M2 carbine stocks are identical to the M1, except for a slight modification to accommodate the selector lever. It was soon discovered that the M2 stock needed to be strengthened for full auto fire. The result was the M2 “pot belly” stock. This M2 stock is heavier in the area just in front of the magazine well.

In addition to parts there are many accessories available for the carbine owner. Mag pouches, flash hiders, muzzle brakes, tools and more. Many of these items were rare and expensive until the recent influx of original U.S. parts on the market.

One interesting item for the M2 is the T13 recoil check. Recently many of these became available. They were designed to control muzzle climb on the M2. Previously foreign copies were available from Spain. Originals were very expensive, but due to quantities now surfacing, the prices are dropping. The M2 carbine, due to its light weight, is somewhat difficult to control in the full auto mode.

The M2 carbine would be a good choice for a shooter on a budget. Converted M2s fall on the low end of the class III price scale, in the range of the Sten and Reising subguns. Abundant carbine parts and accessories are also very reasonably priced.

Give the carbine a look, and you may find that the U.S. Army almost discovered the assault rifle concept over 50 years ago.

Designation: U.S. .30 Carbine, M2
Country of origin: United States
Years manufactured: 1941-1945
Manufacturers: Inland M1, M1A1, M2, Winchester M1, M2,
Other original manufacturers, M1 only; IBM, Rockola, Quality Hardware, Standard Products, Postal Meter, Saginaw, Underwood, and Irwin Pederson (rare).
Magazine capacity: 15 and 30 round box
Caliber: .30 carbine, 110 grain round nose bullet, 1,970 FPS
Cyclic rate: 750-775 rounds per minute
Operation: gas operated, closed locked bolt, select fire
Weight: 5.2 LBS
Barrel length: 18”
Overall length: 36”

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V2N9 (June 1999)
and was posted online on April 15, 2016


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