In 1936, the United States was still in the throes of the Great Depression. The woefully misnamed "War to End All Wars" had concluded fewer than 20 years earlier, and its painful memories were still fresh in the minds of many Americans. Isolationist sentiment was prevalent, and there was little enthusiasm for anything military.
It would seem a most unlikely time for the U.S. Army to adopt a state-of-the-art semi-automatic service rifle. Nonetheless, 75 years ago that is exactly what happened with the standardization of the "U.S. Rifle Semiautomatic, Caliber .30, M1." Today, the M1 rifle, often referred to as the "Garand" in deference to its inventor, John C. Garand, is one of the best-known and most iconic military rifles of all time.
Even though the U.S. military had announced a desire to field a semi-automatic service rifle as early as 1900, the technology to develop a satisfactory arm of this type was slow in coming. A great many designs, foreign and domestic, were tested and evaluated during the intervening 30 years, but none were deemed suitable. The M1 rifle did not appear suddenly; it was the culmination of almost 20 years of toil by Garand, Springfield Armory and the U.S. Army Ordnance Dept.
One enduring story regarding firearms is that of David Marshall Williams, a.k.a. "Carbine" Williams, who is widely credited with "inventing" the M1 carbine of World War II fame. According to popular folklore, reinforced by a 1950s Hollywood movie, Williams invented the carbine using scrap metal and crude machinery while serving a stint in a Southern prison in the 1920s.
Like many "urban legends," this one contains at least a grain of truth. Born on Nov. 13, 1900, in Godwin, N.C., David Marshall Williams, known as "Marsh" to his friends and family, dropped out of school in the eighth grade. He worked for a brief period on the family farm but eventually sought a job at a blacksmith shop where he displayed an affinity for metalworking and machinery.
Williams joined the U.S. Navy but was discharged when it was discovered that he misrepresented his age and was actually too young to serve. After leaving the Navy, he spent one semester at Blackstone Military Academy in Virginia before being expelled. Williams returned home to North Carolina where he married and later had one child. Williams was "augmenting his income" by operating an illegal still and turning out moonshine when, in 1921, the bootlegging operation was raided by law enforcement officers and, in the course of the raid, a deputy sheriff, Alfred J. Pate, was shot and killed. David Williams was charged with first-degree murder, but the trial ended in a hung jury.
Rather than risk a second trial, Williams chose to plead guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 to 30 years at the Caledonia State Prison Farm in Halifax County, N.C. While serving his sentence, Williams spent hours sketching diagrams for various firearm mechanisms.
As he gained the confidence of the prison superintendent, H.T. Peoples, Williams was given access to the prison workshop where he spent his spare time repairing and maintaining the equipment and working on some of his firearm ideas. Friends and relatives began a campaign to have the governor commute his sentence. These efforts proved to be successful as Williams was granted parole in 1929 and totally released from prison in 1931.
He returned home and continued refining his ideas. Two of the more significant inventions hatched by Williams while in prison were the "floating chamber" and the short-stroke gas piston. The floating chamber (sometimes called a "moveable chamber") device permitted a .22 LR cartridge to generate sufficient force to cycle a large caliber semi-automatic or full-automatic mechanism.
A few years later, Williams felt that his plans were developed sufficiently for presentation to the War Department. Ordnance officials were impressed with Williams' floating chamber design as it enabled arms ranging from the .45 automatic pistol to heavy machine guns to fire .22-cal. rimfire ammunition for training purposes.
Not long after his final departure from Winchester, Hollywood became aware of the Horatio Alger-like tale of the former convict who, while still incarcerated, invented (as the story goes) one of the most popular and prolific arms of the recently concluded World War. In 1952, the movie "Carbine Williams," starring the legendary actor Jimmy Stewart, was released to generally favorable reviews. This obviously resulted in a great deal of publicity for Williams, and afterward he would routinely sign black-and-white glossy prints of himself with the moniker "Carbine Williams."
Williams did a bit of consultant work for some firearm manufacturing firms for a period of time before retiring and spending the rest of his days in North Carolina. David Marshall Williams passed away on Jan. 8, 1975 at the age 74.
The design that was to become the MI carbine was very much a product of the entire Winchester organization. The short-stroke gas piston designed by David M. Williams was an integral part of the little rifle, but any claim that he "invented" the M1 carbine is without merit.
This is not to denigrate Williams' abilities in any way, as he was clearly a man with an unquestioned innate talent for firearm design. His inspiring life story of going from a convict to a noted arms designer in a few years is truly an American success story. It must also be remembered that there are "two sides to every story" regarding Williams' stormy association with the Winchester organization. The chief executive of Winchester considered Williams to be a talented and gifted arms designer but felt he was a major distraction to the smooth operation of Winchester in general, and the M1 carbine development program in particular.
Williams, on the other hand, apparently felt that he was not given the deference and recognition he was due and believed that the company was trying to steal his ideas without credit or just compensation. Perhaps, there was a bit of truth in both positions, Williams was undoubtedly a gifted individual who overcame a great deal of adversity. While he clearly didn't "invent" the M1 carbine, his place in firearm history should not be slighted or forgotten. He was a most unusual and, in some ways, remarkable man.
The M1 Carbine was made in larger numbers in a shorter time frame than any other U.S. military arm. But the little gun's career didn't end with Germany and Japan's surrender, as most were rebuilt and made ready for service again in Korea, Vietnam and around the world.
The gun that holds the distinction of being manufactured in greater numbers than any other United States' military small arm of World War II is the ubiquitous .30-cal. M1 carbine. The carbine had been developed just prior to America's entry into World War II as a replacement for the handgun in the hands of officers and other military personnel whose duties often precluded a standard service rifle as their primary armament.
While it never succeeded in its envisioned role as a replacement for the M1911A1 .45 ACP pistol, the carbine soon became something of a "niche" arm. It possessed several desirable attributes, including light weight (just over 51bs.), great handling characteristics and generous magazine capacity. Soon after its adoption and initial issue to the troops, one early U.S. Army Ordnance Department report revealed that: "Army Ordnance officers state that the carbine is one of the most popular weapons they have ever issued to the service."
Demand for the carbine was far greater than originally anticipated and, eventually, production contracts were awarded to 10 firms for its manufacture. Interestingly, only one prime contractor (Winchester Repeating Arms Co.) had manufactured firearms prior to World War II.
The firms selected for carbine production were an eclectic mix, and their pre-war products ranged from jukeboxes, to postal meters to office machines. The prime contractors used a wide array of subcontractors to supply most of the parts. This permitted production rates that would have seemed impossible just a few years earlier. The various contractors turned out the staggering total of 6,221,220 carbines from mid-1941 to mid-1945.
Before World War II, the Rock-Ola Mfg. Corp. in Chicago was best known for its jukeboxes. After America entered the war, Rock-Ola became part of the "Arsenal of Democracy," making U.S. Ml carbines. Accounting for less than 4 percent of the total.
The Rock-Ola Scale Co. was founded in 1927 by David C. Rockola. As the years passed, the small Chicago firm grew and began producing other products. In 1932 the name was changed to Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corp. Mr. Rockola indicated that he added the hyphen as people were prone to mispronounce the name.
By the 1930s, Rock-Ola was manufacturing a wide array of products including scales, parking meters, pinball machines and furniture. However, in the eyes of the public, the firm became most closely associated with coin-operated jukeboxes. Large numbers of Rock-Ola jukeboxes were in use from the mid-1930s into the 1950s and well beyond.
When the United States entered World War II, vast amounts of war materiel were needed and virtually all manufacturing entities were contacted regarding potential military production contracts. Rock-Ola was no exception, and the company was approached in very early 1942 regarding the possibility of becoming involved in the M1 carbine production program.
Initially, Rock-Ola was going to produce only carbine barrels, but the U.S. Army Ordnance Department requested that the company manufacture complete carbines. After receiving the necessary drawings and other production information, the Rock-Ola Company stated that it could manufacture them at a maximum per-unit price of $58.
To this end, a contract was granted on March 21, 1942, to Rock-Ola for 100,000 M1 carbines. The company also received contracts to supply barrels to other prime contractors, mainly its Chicago neighbor Quality Hardware Machine Corp.
As was the case with most of the other prime contractors, Rock-Ola experienced a great deal of difficulty obtaining the production tooling and qualified machinists necessary for firearm manufacture. In order to boost production and cut costs,
Rock-Ola, like the other prime contractors, utilized a large network of subcontractors to produce many of the parts required. Since the company was well versed in fabricating wooden cabinets for its jukeboxes and other products, Rock-Ola made its own carbine stocks and handguards. The company also manufactured stocks and handguards for other carbine prime contractors, again primarily Quality Hardware.
Despite many problems, delays and setbacks, Rock-Ola was eventually able to get into production. The firm's initial batch of barrels was finished in December 1942, and the first completed carbines were delivered in February 1943. Even before the company delivered its first carbine, it was awarded supplemental contracts for an additional 152,746 carbines with a daily production goal of 1,500.
While the carbine was never intended to replace the standard service rifle, many combat soldiers chose it over the M1 Garand because of the carbine's light weight and greater magazine capacity. Once in combat, however, some soldiers' perception of the carbine changed when it was discovered that it lacked range, power and accuracy as compared to the Garand. Nevertheless, large numbers of carbines were used in front-line service in all theaters of the war.
Despite its shortcomings, the carbine proved to be popular, and by the end of the war the carbine was firmly entrenched as an important part of Uncle Sam's small-arms arsenal. Given the huge number of carbines produced, there were a sufficient number of the guns in inventory to supply any projected post-war demand, so no "G.I." carbines were manufactured after 1945.
With the outbreak of hostilities on the Korean peninsula in 1950, the carbine was soon called back into service, and large numbers of them rebuilt after World War II were used in the conflict. Many, but by no means all, of these carbines were of the selective-fire variety, and both M1 and M2 (original or converted) carbines saw widespread use from the time of the Korean War well into the Vietnam War era. Many carbines were also supplied to our South Korean allies.
Carbines were in the hands of many American military "advisors" during the initial stages of the Vietnam War, and they were widely used by the South Vietnamese, who appreciated their small size, light weight and lack of heavy recoil. Carbines saw widespread use around the globe well into the 1980s (and beyond), especially in Central and South America.
Despite sometimes being thought of as exclusively a World War II arm, the carbine's post-war tenure was actually much longer than many people may realize. The Ordnance Department's refurbishment of the carbine, which included the addition of improved components, resulted in giving the design a "new lease on life" and extended its service with the U.S. military decades beyond what was originally envisioned.
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