September 03, 2020
By David M. Fortier
Photography by Laura Fortier
The .30 caliber M1 carbine was one of my favorite companions while roaming the Maine woods as a young teenager. It was short, light and handy, carried easily and slung well. All positive attributes while wandering over hill-and-dale exploring. No, the M1 carbine is no power-house, but it is very easy to shoot, fairly accurate and is fed from a 15- or 30-round magazine. It was the perfect gun for a 14-year-old hiking through the dense forest of rural Maine in the early 1980s. Things were different back then, a simpler time and no-one thought twice about a teenager exploring the woods with a self-loading rifle. Rather, you would have been out of place without one.
I believe I paid $250 for it at a small gun shop in 1980. It came with a sling, oiler, a number of 15-round magazines, one 30-round magazine, and about 450 rounds of G.I. ball which were all loaded on stripper clips. Those were good days indeed. Over the next four years or so, that old GI M1 carbine became a constant companion. It was very fun to shoot, but ammunition was expensive which put a slight damper on things. Even so, it remained a favorite of mine in an ever expanding collection. It was a classic piece of World War II military surplus.
For a long time it seemed as if the age of surplus had come to an end. It appeared as if the well had finally dried up. Sure, there were bits and pieces that showed up occasionally, but in recent years there have been no really exciting discoveries. To cope with this sad reality many of the old time surplus dealers began to transition into other things. Some undertook manufacturing while others simply disappeared into the history books. The world was changing, and frankly I didn’t like it one bit. I missed the smell of cosmoline, the excitement of picking out a historic piece you wish could talk and time spent carefully scrubbing and cleaning a new acquisition. Then there was the excitement of heading to the range for the first time with an old classic purchased at a reasonable price.
So, I was somewhat surprised when I heard rumblings in the industry about a major find. Distributors were talking about a return of surplus, which sounded too good to be true. Unfortunately, all too often rumors turn out to be nothing more than talk and nothing actually arrives. I have seen photos of huge caches of classic World War II firearms and mountains of ammunition reaching unto the heavens, only to have it never appear on U.S. shores. This time though was different. This time the quest was successful, with Royal Tiger Imports Inc. bringing in not only some traditional surplus items, but some variations never seen before in the U.S.!
Currently trending on social media is their trove of GI M1 carbines they managed to import into the U.S. Yes, they are importing many other exciting models, but the M1 carbines stuck out to me. There are a few old cars, and a girl or two I will always have a soft spot for. So it is with the M1 carbine. I just have a fondness for them and so, I was very interested to find out more about Royal Tiger Import’s haul. Before I delve into the carbines though, let’s consider the company which hunted for years to find this cache. They never gave up, and during extensive travels finally located a trove of surplus firearms in Ethiopia.
Two brothers, Oli and Uli Wiegand are behind Royal Tiger Imports, and this new influx of surplus firearms. Both love history, firearms and a bit of adventure. Born in Germany, they grew up with a fascination for military history and military collectibles, as well as a respect for their family’s rich military heritage. Oli began buying and selling military surplus in 1988 and continually expanded out, eventually having divisions in Whitten, Germany, Austria and the United States. His younger brother Uli took over the U.S. operations, and expanded and grew the operation. He eventually expanded out into manufacturing as the surplus slowly dried up. While the company’s roots were in surplus, it seemed as if there was no more to be had. Perhaps the age of surplus had come to an end?
Oli had other plans. He had started with surplus and that is where his heart remained. Around 2009 he left the company to continue his adventures.
Years went by, the market continued to evolve and change and Oli decided to once again head out across the globe in search of military surplus firearms from the golden years of manufacturing. He didn’t want to just find some small stash though. He wanted to find something exciting, something which would really catch people’s attention.
His quest took him around the world to the Horn of Africa, and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. A landlocked country, Ethiopia is surrounded by Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, South Sudan, and Sudan. With 109 million people it is the most populous landlocked country in the world, and the second most populous country in Africa. Today it is forlorn place, but it has an ancient and rich history. It was in simple warehouses covered in layers of dust that Oli and Uli found relics of an age long past.
During the late 19th Century Ethiopia was a bit unique in that it retained its sovereignty during what is known as the “Scramble for Africa” by the European colonial powers. Only Ethiopia and Liberia were able to accomplish this. Ethiopia became the first independent African nation to join the League of Nations. Their independence lasted until Mussolini’s fascist Italy invaded the country and occupied it in 1936. It then became part of Italian East Africa, and became known as Italian Ethiopia. During this time, slavery, which had existed for centuries, was finally abolished. Mussolini’s “empire” proved to be short-lived though, and Ethiopia was liberated during World War II. They became the first independent African nation in the years after the war to join the United Nations. In 1974, Haile Selassie’s monarchy was overthrown by a communist military government called the Derg. This was sponsored by the Soviet Union. They established the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in 1987. This was overthrown in 1991 when the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front came into power. They have been in power ever since.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, Ethiopia acquired a wide variety of military rifles from many different sources. These included the Germans, Belgians, British, French, Italians and Americans. All manner of designs, models and variations seem to have ended up there including Chassepots, Gewehr 88s, Gras rifles, Kar 88s, Gewehr G98s, Belgian Mausers, Carcanos of all models, Vetterlis, Mannlichers, Enfields and more. Some of these models in variations which have never before been imported into the US.
Along with all these classics were an interesting pile of M1 carbines. Yes, that trusty little .30 caliber friend of the G.I. The .30 caliber M1 carbine proved extremely popular with not just American troops, but with soldiers all around the world, including Ethiopia. Originally designed to supplement the U.S. caliber .45 M1911A1 pistol, the M1 carbine was intended to be a light and easy to carry piece for soldiers whose primary task was not running a rifle, but who might need something more effective than a pistol.
As such, it lacked the terminal performance and exterior ballistics of the .30-’06 M1 rifle, M1903 Springfield and M1917 Enfield rifles. But, it was significantly shorter, drastically lighter and much easier to carry and pack about. It was also significantly lighter than the Thompson submachine gun series, and the ammunition load was drastically lighter. At the same time the small M1 carbine was easy to shoot well out to about 200 yards, was semi-automatic and carried 15 rounds. So, it held three times the ammunition of a M1903 and almost twice what an M1 rifle carried in an En Bloc clip.
The genesis of the M1 carbine was before the start of World War II. Prior to the war US Army Ordnance had received enough complaints from support troops about the length and weight of the new M1 rifle to investigate developing a new weapon. This interest was further spurred on by the success of German Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers) who were dropped behind lines during the opening blitzkrieg attacks in Europe. Support troops were at times the only soldiers available to counter them. Due to all these points, US Army Ordnance became interested in a lightweight defensive weapon, which was more effective than the M1911A1 pistol.
In 1938, the Chief of Infantry made a request for a “light rifle” and the requirements were approved in 1940. This in turn led to a competition in 1941 which major U.S. firearm manufacturers participated in. In brief, the first series of prototype carbines submitted were all found unsatisfactory. Winchester had been working on a .30-’06 rifle for the military, and after the death of Johnathan “Ed” Browning had hired David Marshall “Carbine” Williams to complete some of his designs. Williams developed a short-stroke gas system and after Browning’s rear-locking tilting bolt design was abandoned a Garand-style rotating bolt and operating rod were introduced. While Winchester’s design at this stage was not successful, Major René Studler of Ordnance thought it could be scaled down into a suitable carbine. The first model was developed at Winchester in 13 days by William C. Roemer, Fred Humeston and three other Winchester engineers under the supervision of Edwin Pugsley. The scaled down model was rechambered for a .30 SL Winchester cartridge based on the old .32 Winchester Self-Loading round. In the end the prototype was successful, and in August 1941 army observers were impressed with what they saw. Winchester, with Williams on board, then further refined the design and it successfully competed against other submissions in September 1941 and was accepted on 22nd October 1941. The final result was an amalgamation of a variety of designs based on input from a number of designers.
What sets the M1 carbine apart from other carbines of its era is its cartridge. Traditionally carbines had merely been shortened rifles, and used standard rifle ammunition. The M1 carbine was a different animal in this regard. Rather than chambering the U.S. Army standard .30-’06 it fires a rimless straight-wall .30-caliber cartridge based on the .32 SL. The original US Army requirements called for a caliber greater than .27-inch with an effective range of 300 yards and midrange trajectory ordinate of 18 inches or less at 300 yards. Winchester’s Edwin Pugsley took these requirements and designed a .30 caliber cartridge capable of firing a 110- to 120-grain FMJ projectile at approximately 2,000 fps. Initial cartridges were manufactured by turning the rims off .32 SL cases and were headstamped “.30 SL”. The result lacked the exterior and terminal ballistics of the .30-’06 but met the U.S. Army’s requirements and received their approval.
The carbine itself is a short and handy piece which is both easy to sling and to carry. It has an overall length of 35.6 inches and weighs just 5.2 pounds empty. Add a sling and loaded 15-round magazine and it weighs in at 5.8 pounds. A self-loading design, it features a short-stroke gas piston with a Garand-style dual-lug rotating bolt. A lightweight 18-inch barrel is screwed into the receiver and the barreled action is dropped into a wood stock.
Sights consist of a non-adjustable protected post front sight and either a dual aperture or adjustable rear sight, depending upon when it was manufactured. The reciprocating charging handle is on the rifle side of the receiver. The safety was initially a simple cross-bolt but this was later changed to a rotating lever. The safety is placed forward of the trigger guard giving easy access. The magazine release is a push button forward of the safety. Initially, 15-round magazines were the only option. Manufactured from steel, these are a simple dual-column dual-feed design. Later, with the introduction of the selective-fire M2 carbine a 30-round design was adopted.
The M1 carbine saw a number of small changes and improvements made during its service life. These included the rear sight and safety previously mentioned. A bayonet and bayonet lug were later developed based on end-user feedback. Due to the success of the design a number of variants were also developed and fielded by the U.S. Army. These included the M1A1 with a side-folding stock which was developed for paratroopers, the selective fire M2 carbine, and the M3 carbine which mounted an infrared night vision sight. A wide variety of companies produced the carbine during World War II and it saw extensive use with American forces. Approximately 6,121,309 carbines were produced during World War II and it remained in service until 1973 with U.S. forces. It was also heavily distributed to allied troops and remains in service to this day with various military and police forces around the world.
Today the M1 carbine is a popular collectible among American firearms enthusiasts. Many collectors like the small carbine due to the amount of military contractors, 11, which adds interest and variety. Others like its military heritage and use during World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Then there are those who simply enjoy shooting them. The M1 carbine is indeed very fun for recreational shooting and still makes a handy piece to carry over hill and dale on an adventure.
Currently, Royal Tiger Imports, Inc. has a variety of U.S. G.I. M1 carbines they imported from Ethiopia. These range in condition and price with a wide variety of manufacturers to choose from. Speaking with Uli he stated they have carbines available from all the various manufacturers except Irwin-Pedersen and Quality Hardware Manufacturing Corp. So, there are a variety of manufacturers for collectors to choose from. This is a great opportunity to acquire an M1 carbine for your collection or as a shooter.
I had a chance to examine three different M1 carbines to see their condition. All three were a bit dirty and showed signs of use with two being the standard grade. As you would expect, you will find both style safeties and rear sights in their offerings. One of the three had a bayonet lug. All three had good bores with strong rifling and no pitting in the bore. The better example had a fairly nice walnut stock which would clean up well with a little bit of elbow grease. Finish on the two standard grade models was worn in places while the select grade looked very good for its age. One of the three came with an original sling and oiler. All came with new G.I. mags still in the wrap.
To see how it would perform I headed to the range with the select model. For ammunition I brought along Winchester 110-grain FMJ from their Victory series. This comes nicely packed in a collectible wooden box. Inside is a military style 20-round cardboard box. This is a duplicate of the original military load and almost looked too good to shoot. To this I added some old Remington 110-grain Core-Lokt soft points. Many moons ago my mother used to deer hunt in Maine with an old M1 carbine and this Remington load. It brought back fond memories and I had to chuckle.
Off a rest the M1 carbine performed well at 100 yards. I fired four five-shot groups and the Winchester load averaged a respectable 2.8 inches averaging 1,986 fps. It had a high of 2,003 fps, so velocity was good. The Remington soft point load averaged three inches with an average velocity of 1,978 fps. Recoil is very mild, feeding and ejection was flawless and the trigger was fairly good. The example I tested had the adjustable rear sight and this provided a good sight picture. The stock is comfortable but the length of pull is just a bit short at 13.1 inches. I had no problems with it. Report is fairly mild compared to say a 5.56mm.
Moving from the bench, I loaded up some 15-round magazines and had a bit of fun shooting steel plates and silhouettes. This is where the M1 carbine really becomes fun. Magazines insert with a simple upward push. Retract the bolt all the way and let it fly forward and you are ready to go. The safety is well within reach and this model had the rotating lever which is easy to flick off. Firing at 50 yards produced a nice tight group on the silhouette with my first shot just out to nine o’clock. Recoil is very mild and it’s a very fun gun to shoot. Making head shots on a reduced size silhouette is no challenge at 50 yards and I printed a nice group on a steel plate at this distance firing at a quick pace offhand.
I was using some Korean manufactured 15-round magazines during testing and had zero issues. Just keep in mind that while the bolt stays back on the last shot, it will fly forward when you remove the magazine. The bolt simply catches on the follower. To remove the magazine, simply depress the magazine release button and it drops out.
The only controversial point with the M1 carbine has been the cartridge it fired. The guns themselves are fairly reliable, although individual guns can be a bit touchy with soft points. Typically, if they are clean and lubricated they run well when fed from good magazines. The cartridge though has been questioned regarding its terminal performance. The standard G.I. ball round fires a 110-grain round nose full metal jacket project at about 1,990 fps. The ballistic coefficient of the projectile is not particularly high, so it does shed velocity fairly rapidly. For example my LabRadar Doppler chronograph recorded a muzzle velocity of one round at 1,974 fps and recorded it again at 75 yards. At this distance it had dropped to 1,679 fps. So the carbine is at its best inside 100 yards. The 110-grain GI FMJ load tends to penetrate with no expansion or fragmentation. Due to this terminal performance can be improved by simply switching to a soft point or modern expanding load. Performance wise the .30-carbine out muscles the Soviet 7.62x25mm Tokarev cartridge when fired from the longer barrel of a submachine gun. Velocity of a 7.62x25mm 86-grain FMJ typically runs around 1,790 fps at the muzzle from a PPSh-41. So, the carbine is both faster and throws a heavier projectile. Perhaps a better comparison would be with a .357 Magnum fired from a 16-inch carbine. Velocity is similar to the M1 carbine, but the .357 Magnum does have the advantage of a bit larger diameter and can throw a heavier bullet. When used with modern expanding ammunition though the .30 carbine is perfectly adequate for personal protection and hunting smaller deer-size game inside 100 yards.
If you are interested in a GI M1 carbine Royal Tiger Imports has them available. They are listed on their website starting at $999.99 for a standard model and $1,699.99 for one in excellent to unissued condition. The downside is that Royal Tiger will not be getting any more. What they have is it. So, if you want one I suggest buying one now and not waiting. Surplus is surplus and when they are gone they are gone.
M1 Carbine Specs
- Caliber: .30 carbine
- Operation: Gas operated via short-stroke piston
- Barrel length: 18 inches
- Overall length: 35.6 inches
- Weight: 5.2 pounds empty
- Feed: 15- and 30-round detachable box magazine
- Front Sight: Protect post
- Rear Sight: Dual aperture flip or Fully adjustable
- Stock: Wood
- Length of Pull: 13.1 inches
- Finish: Parkerizing
- Price: $999.99 (standard model), $1,699.99 (excellent to unissued condition)
- Contact: Royal Tiger Imports, Inc.; RoyalTigerImports.com
M1 Carbine Accuracy and Velocity Chart