The perceived inadequacy of M1 carbine

M1 carbine is often called the “girlfriend gun” for its compact size and low recoil. It’s as often derided for the perceived lack of stopping power. We decided to test it side by side with .223, 9×19 and 10mm Auto.

(Photo by Heather Cernik)

1/4″ doesn’t sound like much until you actually handle the plate. Aluminum doesn’t sound like much either, until you look at the cross-section to see surface hardening to the depth of about 1.5mm and also look at the lack of penetration by the pistol rounds. In addition to firing at extended range, I also shot 9×19 at 25 yards and the bullets left only slightly deeper dents.

As you can see, the accuracy of the carbine (used here with the discontinued 2x Aimpoint CompC3 on an Ultimak mount) is plenty accurate to hit a hostile human past 250 yards. The effective accurate range isn’t that much less with unmagnified optics.

Front and back of the plate up close.

The Box O’ Truth tested .30 Carbine ball as well and found it quite adequate in penetration. Using soft point defensive ammunition would reduce penetration slightly but increase the wound channel size.  In truth, .30 carbine is only slightly behind 7.92 Kurtz, 300 Blackout and 7.62×39 in energy and suffers mostly from the use of stubby pistol-like bullets that lose velocity quicker and don’t tumble on impact. For personal self-defense, long range matters seldom. Better terminal performance can be had with properly picked ammunition. Penetration, as the plate photos above show, is sufficient to defeat auto bodies and other light cover — and, not being a spitzer bullet, .30 carbine projectile doesn’t destabilize as drastically upon impact. So it’s a useful round, and it far outperforms most of the pistol cartridges used in submachine guns and light carbines.

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36 Responses to The perceived inadequacy of M1 carbine

  1. Turk says:

    My father in law carried an M-1 carbine in Viet Nam and always spoke highly of it.

  2. keads says:

    I have a WWII era Carbine and I agree with your assessment. Great to meet you at the BBQ in Indy! My Carbine is in full battle dress. Interesting that you can do all that to one.

  3. Mark says:

    When I was twelve years old I killed my first deer with an old WWII Carbine. One shot and the deer went right down. It’s a great lightweight weapon for a young person.

  4. Andy says:

    It would be interesting to see the results with a Cor-Bon DPX round, they make them for the M1 carbine.

  5. Vic says:

    Really liked your article as I haven’t read too much on the carbine. I own an M1 that has Korean armory markings and is in beautiful condition.

    You’ve definitely inspired me to take it out of the safe and run ammo through it.

    Cheers brother.

  6. David E says:

    I’d have to run one again and chrono the results, but the results from Winchester show the 30 Carbine is less than half as “powerful” as 7.62x39mm at 100 yards. I don’t doubt it could kill me 100% dead, 🙂 , but it’s not in the same class. I have fired 30 Carbine in handguns, and it is a romper stomper of a handgun round, ( AutoMagII and Ruger revolver), no arguments there. Be nice to see that comparison, do a .357 Magnum lever action carbine against the 30 carbine, and an AutoMag II against a 10mm 1911 Long Slide. Just for grins and giggles. 🙂 If I had access to a few toys I’d try it myself. As for the round, perfectly adequate for personal protection, as thousands of deceased Nazi, Japanese, North Korean and Chinese troops would attest to, if they could. 😉

    • Lyle says:

      The 110 grain bullet at nominal 1900 fps. is slightly more energy at the muzzle than a typical .357 Magnum revolver;

      At distance, I don’t know. The typically heavier .357 bullet probably has a slightly better ballistic coefficient, so at 100 yards they may be even, or the .357 may have a slight advantage. Your typical loading manual will have the BCs for each bullet. Getting the BCs for different bullets and running an exterior ballistics program would tell you much. The Carbine however will make it easier to hit targets at distance.

      In truth, the 30 Carbine is “outdated” in that we have the 5.56 and other smallish rounds that perform better at longer distances. That’s not the point though. The point is that the 30 Carbine still has it’s uses. As I say in the link above, think of it as a .357 Magnum that is about as easy to shoot as a 22 LR and capable of feeding from a 15 or 30 round magazine. Just make sure you’ve vetted all your magazines, because some of them work poorly. That takes a lot of shooting. But it’s fun.

  7. Ross says:

    Automag II is 22 Magnum; Automag III is .30 Carbine

    • Lyle says:

      A fellow had a 30 Carbine AutoMag at Boomershoot this year. Two positions away I could see, in my peripheral vision, the fireballs coming out of that thing. It exploded the targets just fine (minimum target velocity for detonation; about 1300 fps., IRRC). Most of us were using .223 Rem./5.56.

  8. Pete Sheppard says:

    The carbine’s problem is that since it’s a shoulder arm, it winds up being compared with the far more powerful .30 Garand.
    Allowed to stand on its own as a PDW, it shines! The biggest shortcoming of the carbine nowadays is the scarcity of ammo.

    • Brian says:

      I found ‘PPU” ammo at Cabela’s is excellent and cost $25 for 50 rounds. That’s better than $25 for 20 rounds of Gold Dot.

  9. Lyle says:

    Note that in the high res photo of the plate you can see the imprints of the serrations in the 10 mm Hornady XTP bullet nose. I find that sort of thing fascinating.

    After seeing the pistol results of the 100 yard shots I did not expect the 30 carbine to penetrate.

    Of course, to compare apples to apples, I suppose we’d have to use carbine length barrels for the 9 and the 10, and probably use FMJ for all, or HP for all. Still, it is telling that the Carbine out-penetrates the two pistols at distance.

    There are a number of SP and HP bullets suitable for use in the 30 Carbine, so the extra velocity and down-range energy it provides (over a service pistol) can be put to that application also.

    Mark; if your deer “went right down” then you must have struck a nerve (CNS hit). I’ve crushed the shoulders and lungs (and even the heart) of several deer with a 50 cal soft lead ball and still had them run off for a little bit. The only time I had one drop in its tracks was when a quartering away shot glanced off the spine. ZAP! My son once blew a deer’s heart wide open, and it ran near 40 yards. I took the heart out and laid it out like a pancake. Zero functionality. That was an eye-opener. ‘Course, if you stick a 22 LR pistol in its ear and fire, it’s going “right down”. So “stopping power” is all about shot placement. Unfortunately the brain and spine are relatively small targets.

    • Rolf says:

      It’s not too surprising that the 10mm didn’t go through but the M1 carbine round did. The carbine projectile starts with a significantly higher velocity, and has a lower BC so it slows down even more. Then, once it hits, it has 77% greater cross section to try to shove through the metal plate, but with only 63% more mass and likely only a little more than half the velocity. Handgun rounds are lousy for penetrating hard targets. OTOH, against soft targets, I’d expect the 10mm projectile to dump a much higher percentage of its energy. shot placement, shot placement, shot placement!

      WRT dropping a deer in its tracks, I’ve done it a number of times. Every single one was a central nervous system hit, or so very close to the spine that the shockwave / cavity / sudden movement had essentially the same effect as hitting it and shutting things down. Heart/lungs is usually lethal, but not instantly, even with a .30-06 . See for an example hunting story write-up, if you want the pictures.

    • Rolf says:

      D’oh. Typo. The 10mm has lower velocity and ballistic coefficient, so starts slower and slows more.

      • Lyle says:

        Those who understand the concepts knew what you meant. For everyone else it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

  10. Howard says:

    The M1 carbine was the weapon of choice for the French Legion during their Vet Nam. Small liteweight, will go thru brush, and hit hard. My first issued military weapon was a carbine, loved it. And Turk , I too carried one in “Nam (until ordered to carry a ’16) In my opinion, it is a much better weapon than the M-16.

  11. Ray says:

    Look on you tube for a WW-2 film “small arms and there effects” . The M-1 carbine was a better “stopper” than ANY of the handguns or SMG’s of the era. The big problem with modern carbines is the ammo, some of it loaded to MUCH lower MV’s than mil-standard (ww-2 ammo was just shy of 2000 FPS)

  12. Huff says:

    Hi Cernik family!!! SPQR

  13. j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

    Glad to hear the lil’ M1 carbine getting some good press, I like that little gun for hiking and as a ranch rifle (woods carry). Love the way the empties are thrown right beside you rather than thrown 30 feet away under that cactus . . .

    Factory ammunition price is pretty crazy expensive. If someone could rechamber this to a rimless .357 Magnum cartridge or Tokarev 7.62×25, it would be even sweeter. I have no idea if the mechanical ‘innards’ could take this and make this possible.

    Thank you for your experiments above, I was surprised to see how well it did compared to those other cartridges. Especially the 10mm auto – I’ve seen the Glock 10mm recommended as ‘bear medicine’ . . .

  14. Dan O'Brien says:

    Big holes, where you want them, what more could you ask of it? Nice!

  15. Bob G says:

    That was a real eye-opener of a photo! The M1 Carbine doesn’t get the respect it deserves, and your photo makes the argument better than any article on the topic I’ve read. Well done!

    Wish you had shot a .357 Mag. or .357 Maximum carbine alongside. That would have been epic!

  16. Firehand says:

    Couple of years ago I decided to experiment, and tried loading .30 Carbine with the Sierra Varminter 110-grain hollowpoint. Had to reduce powder charge, but with the reduced volume(had to seat the bullet deeper in the case) still got GI ball velocity.

    Insufficient velocity to expand the nose, but at 50 yards into water jugs the bullet completely penetrated four and was found in the 5th; bent like a banana. Haven’t been able as yet to try it at 100 yards, but at in home/across the yard ranges, I do believe that would leave a mark.

  17. Switch says:

    I do like the 30 cal magnum or the M1 carbine for what it was intended for. To give support troops a firearm other than a pistol with extended range out to 150 yards.
    I find bullet type is a big consideration. SP or HP has more destruction. Now there is a cartridge 351 SL (self loader) that’s a 357 on steroids , 180 gr @ 1900 fps. This is what Winchester first proposed but the rifle is about 8 LBS. and did not meet the light rifle requirement. Check out for a link to brass fetcher that shows a number of cartridges shot into ballistic gelatin including all of the above.

  18. Rob L says:

    Actual first hand accounts of WWII, Korea and V.Nam combat vets all speak highly of the little carbines usefulness. Accounts of the Malay and Philippine guerrillas state they were ecstatic when they started receiving M1 Carbines. Light and handy and great for the jungle fighting they were engaged in. No less than Audie Murphy preferred a certain “Lucky” Carbine…I am sure the small stature of the above listed folks played a part to the above soldiers…

    • ensitue says:

      From “No Name On The Bullet” the bio of Murphy; he liked that particular carbine due to it’s trigger pull and I believe he would swap the trigger group into a new carbine barreled receiver to gain the advantage of new rifling. Murphy took out several snipers alone using spot and stalk tactics in the thick Hertagin Forrest. He was shot in the butt by one sniper at close range while wounding or killing him. Murphy’s unit had many sniper rifles on display collected by Murphy who kept one that was brand new and sent it home.

  19. ensitue says:

    I carried a very worn M-2 Carbine with a fish belly wooden stock and preferred it over the M-16s, it was perfect for “jungle warfare” and street fighting. I’ve owned several GI and one Universal carbines since I left the service, they all worked great

  20. Chris McConnell says:

    Nice comparison, but I would have liked to see it compared against the 7.62×25 which seems like a much better comparison as they are both sub-gun rounds. Everyone I know that owns or has shot the M1 had positive things to say about it, a few even put it as their personal favorite to shoot. I’m glad you compared it against the 10mm, but was that full house 10mm loads or the commonly available watered down stuff? .44 Mag and .454 Casull would also be interesting to see tested.

  21. Matthew Carberry says:

    LeMag did the .45 Win Mag conversion years back. Thought that would make a handy brush gun.

    Now you can get AR’s in a handful of chamberings with the same general ballistics and more overall utility, but none are as pretty as the Carbine.

  22. Stuart Phillips says:

    In reading this post, the question was “why does the M-1 carbine have such a bad reputation.” The article is about taking the M-1 carbine to the range and recording that it shot well. I think most guns shoot well at the range, especially if nobody is shooting back at you. Why it has such a bad reputation is based on the context it was used.
    So let’s take this in parts;
    Is the M-1 carbine better than nothing? Yes, it is quite true that the farmers and rural policemen loved it during the Malay emergency, but you must remember they only had rusty Enfield’s and leftover Japanese bolt action rifles up to that time.
    Is the M-1 carbine good for second line troops? Yes, this is the purpose that it was created. If you were a truck driver or cook with little firearms training, using the M-1 carbine would be much more effective than giving you a 1911 pistol.
    Is the M1 carbine a main battle rifle? No, and this is the problem. It was issued to paratroopers and other front line troops who found it underpowered. Against an experienced enemy armed with a real main battle rifle a pistol caliber round like the .30 Carbine is inadequate. I can’t imagine going into a stand up fight and wanting a M-1 carbine when you could carry a M1 Garand, Thompson SMG, or even a M14 later, unless you are slight of build. In that case an AK47 or M16 solves the problem.
    The final issue I have with the M1 carbine is the cost. Even cheap copies from the 1970’s still command $600 and real WW2 examples are three times that. I can get a nice AK clone or even an AR15 for that price and then be able to buy tons of cheap common ammo.

    • Lyle says:

      All valid points there. I think the main point of the post is that the Carbine, ballistically speaking, beats a service pistol quite handily, it is easier to make hits with at distance, and it is easy and pleasant to operate.

      That’s the better comparison; Carbine to pistol, though of course they are not the same thing.

      As Cooper put it; when you’re expecting trouble, you carry your rifle. A pistol is for unexpected emergencies. Where that puts the M1 Carbine is hard to define, other than as you have already done.

      Cooper didn’t seem to have much use for an AK, SKS or the M16 either, though everything is a compromise.

  23. leaddog says:

    A few years ago I dropped a coyote at 250yds using mil surp ball in an Israeli Arms with an EOTech Halo sight. While he appeared to me to be broadside, he must have been quartering a little. The round entered the right side just aft of the rib cage and blew a big hole where his shoulder blade was. He meandered about 20 yards and collapsed. If it will stop a ‘yote at that range, I imagine it is good enough from there on in for about anything I’d be shooting.

    The biggest trouble I had with it when my boys were in Jr High was keeping ammo. Every time I’d get a couple hundred rounds loaded, they would promptly unload them. It is a great rifle to shoot and teach shooters to use.

    Excellent for guarding your perimeter for anything from coons and coyotes on up.

  24. pdxr13 says:

    10mm Auto factory ammo seems to be loaded as “low-recoil”, and not anything near what a Glock 20 can safely handle. Handloads with the right bullet/powder combo can be impressive. Add some barrel length to sbr smg, and it’s a pretty great round.

    Carbine is in that middle ground of “just right” when compact and lighter is what’s needed. +1 on the commenter who had the .30 Carbine Blackhawk. Agree also on production cost, ammo cost/availability and current used M-1 Carbine cost: a little high when compared to everything else, unless a person is a sufficiently sentimental. M-2 even more so.

  25. Redleg says:

    Who is the manufacturer of that stock on the Carbine? I haven’t been able to find much in the way of modern accessories for my wife’s Carbine so any references would be appreciated!

  26. DAL357 says:

    Would the sub-zero temperatures that some of the fighting took place under have had any effect on the carbine’s ammo and effectiveness? I’ve heard that -20 temps. weren’t unusual in that theater.

  27. StukaPilot says:

    Error Frynn used a carbine in “Objective Burma”. That’s good enough for me

  28. sirlordbaltimore says:

    I too wonder about the sub zero temps adversely affecting the carbines performance. The test Mr Volk did not take this into account. Nor did the Box of truth test also mentioned. It would be interesting to see somebody replicate that factor.

    I had a friend (now in this late 60s) who served in Vietnam very early on. He loved his carbine. Really liked its light weight and low profile.

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