Is the M1 Carbine a More Effective Combat Weapon Than a Submachinegun?

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Feb 18, 2007
NE Ohio
Would a light, flatter shooting rifle like the M1 Carbine be more effective in combat than a 9mm Submachine gun? The thought crossed my mind that if the Germans had employed something like the M1 Carbine INSTEAD of the MP38/40, they might have altered the speed with which they won battles or moved across Europe, altering the course of the war. The STG44 came a little too late, and was even more powerful than the Carbine, but I think even the Carbine in the hands of the Germans might have been enough of an improvement over the sub gun to give them the advantage. The .45 submachine gun MIGHT be more effective in knockdown, but the weight and weight of ammo trades off some of its effectiveness in real combat.
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I read a few quotes in a book about the Reising submachinegun used by the Marines at Guadalcanal solicited from Leatherneck magazine asking WWII vets about the weapons they used. As I remember, there were quite a few who traded their Reisings for M1 carbines over reliability issues and even a few who traded their Thompsons for M1 carbines for the (slightly) better penetration of the .30 carbine round over the .45 ACP.
Having an M-1 Carbine myself (and I like the weapon) keep in mind it really was more of an early Personal Defense Weapon (PDW) than a battle rifle, per se. It was originally intended to replace the Colt 1911 .45ACP pistol as a weapon for rear echelon soldiers who wouldn't generally expect to be warriors first & formost.
That it really didn't "replace" the pistol and managed to get into front line soldiering is somewhat of a testament to its handiness -- and to the fact that atleast on the Pacific Islands with the close jungle fighting, it was accidently well suited for this kind of war. Light and handy and firing a round that penetrated Japanese ballistic vests (unlike the .45ACP) the carbine became according to one Marine "the ace weapon of the war."
Others despised it as underpowered and "innacurate." Well, by some standards it IS underpowered but it isn't really inaccurate. -- some people here have told how their father/uncle or grandfather had the M-1 Carbine in the Pacific and couldn't get good effect with it and wound up with the harder hitting Garand.
IIRC history correctly Germany's big mistake was mistiming the Operation Barborossa plan so Hitler wound up sending his men in during the cruel Soviet winter, for which they were unprepared. This truly bogged down the war effort. But it was not caused by arming his soldiers with inferior 9mm. MP-40s or, well, whatever other weapon of your choice.
I seem to recall that Hitler's alliance with Mussolini and the troubled relationship they had (basically Hitler had to pull Mussolini's ass out of a bad situation once too often) was primarily the cause for the Barborassa delay.
I doubt arming his men with superpowered M-1 Carbines would havealtered the overall equation much. Strategies and tactics lost the war for Hitler; he micromanaged the war too much, he interfered with his generals' decisions, wouldn't allow them to retreat & regroup, delayed the start of new technology such has the Me 262 causing it to enter the war too late & in too small numbers.....Having one gun maybe slightly superior in firepower than the bolt action K98s issued to his men would not have helped. If it had I think the Sturmgehwer would have .... but even they didn't.
So no.... in the end Hitler was his own worst enemy.
And Thank God for that.
The British once considered assassinating Hitler, but after evaluating how he crippled his own war effort by meddling, they decided if they killed Hitler, he could have been replaced by someone competent.
The plan was submitted in November 1944, but was never carried out because controversy remained over whether it was actually a good idea to kill Hitler: he was by then considered to be such a poor strategist that it was believed whoever replaced him would probably do better.
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Seems like I've read accounts of German soldiers picking up M1 Carbines and ammo and using then when they could, because they were handy and effective.
As a rifle, the M1 Carbine makes a pretty good pistol ... :evil:

Just kidding. I love them, but IMO they're not a good replacement for submachine guns because full auto is needed for suppressive fire.

In close-quarters combat I can see them being better than the M1 Garand because they're more maneuverable and have more ammo capacity.
Many folks don’t realize just how heavy those WWII submachine guns were (7-10 pounds). Thus you had the weight of a rifle (or more) and the power of a pistol. That was the price you paid for portable individual automatic fire in the 1930s-40s.

Even the StG was no lightweight.

The M1 carbine is still neat little gun. Less than 7 pounds. Fifteen shot magazine. Accurate to 200 yards. However it is not a history altering weapon.
Seems like I've read accounts of German soldiers picking up M1 Carbines and ammo and using then when they could, because they were handy and effective.

I have book on the Battle of the Bulge, heavy on pictures from US Signal Corps and from a German crew assigned to record the great victory for a Goebbels propaganda film. They captured film of a German infantryman advancing with an M1 Carbine at the ready (as well as German tank-riding infantry one with a Sten gun).

The German even had an official nomeclature for M1 carbines captured and pressed into service: Selbstladekarabiner 455(a) roughly "self-loading (semi-auto) carbine 455 (Amerikan)".
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Oh yea, the carbine is way ahead of the subgun in most functions. But then a submachine gun is basically a short range (and I do mean SHORT RANGE) lead sprayer.

I would consider a submachine gun a niche weapon, short range, room clearing or suppressive weapon.
It's usefulness and effectiveness is wholly dependent on the situation and conditions.
For clearing buildings in urban environments, sure, for fighting out in the open at any kind of ranges over 100 yards, I wouldn't consider it that effective.
Even used by a conservative gunner, subguns are ammo-eaters, they use a lot of ammo, that's a lot of magazines and ammo to lug around, not to mention logistics for it.
I think I would've preferred the carbine over the subgun, as even today's military riflemen are instructed to use semi-auto fire over full-auto fire and are quite effective with it.
But this is where the intermediate round in a select-fire weapon covers most situations, powerful enough to be used as a front-line fighting rifle, not too powerful to not be controllable in full-auto fire for those situations where it's required.
Consider the studies that say most combat occurs within 100 yards against an enemy who isn't sitting still, I would say accuracy of any kind would be hard to achieve, especially as one is usually hungry, tired, dirty and scared. It would take great concentration and mettle, lots of training and sometimes just plain luck to be successful under these conditions with any kind of weapon.
My first tour in Viet Nam as an Adviser, I was issued an M2 Carbine (the selective fire version.) It got wrapped around a tree. I borrowed an M1 rifle from the ARVN and carried that from then on.

I also scrounged up an M1 Thompson SMG and kept that in the jeep -- it wasn't worth the weight to carry in the field.
For room clearing and short range fighting I think the subgun wins. However, the battlefields varied so the M1 might have been better.

Tommygunn hit it on the head: small arms have very little effect on total wars. Now if the Germans had a bunch of trucks instead of horses to bring up supplies things could have been very different. One wonders if Stalin would have fled Moscow or stayed after it was surrounded.
MP-38/40 Had unique rolls in the various German militaries.

The basic infantry unit in the German army was a maniple centered around a medium MG, with riflemen in support of the MG. The squad (maniple) leader was armed with an SMG This weapon was a badge of office, a fire-direction, device, and a tool in offense and defensive maneuvering.

For other armed forces, the SMG was a way to to increase (potentially) the number of rounds on target when used by infrequent, or less-well trained shooters. In such a case it was a tool of intimidation.

Now, if the Germans had access to the M2--select fire--model of the Carbine, then, that might have been a different sort of thing.

Except, they probably would have adopted some German version of 9mm longo.

It's good t remember one of the things that delayed issue of the STG/MP-44 was the reluctance of the German General Staff to introduce yet another ammunition into the supply train (they has something over 10,000 million 7.92 already on hand).

Personally, I find the Carbine points and carries far better than the MP-40. That latter is, though, supremely compact. It sling carries, on patrol, far better than the Carbine (although both are equally stabbity slung in marching order). Magazine carriage for the Carbine is far superior, both in access, and variety, of carriage. (Fumbling about with leather straps and buckles while prone--and wet and cold--will demonstrate the superiority of lift-the-dot and snap fasteners.)

But, I could be biased in this.
As I understand it, period doctrine called for subguns for room-clearing and building-to-building fighting, and full-power rifles for fighting in open country. Of course, this complicated things when moving from open country to a city, and vice versa.

I'm not sure that a semiauto-only M1 carbine would be better than a subgun in the subgun role, e.g. CQB, but the M1 is certainly a far more versatile all-around weapon. It would have allowed 200-yard shots in open country but was small enough for indoor use.
It wouldn't have mattered a bit, no small arm would unless you go to the extreme of muskets vs modern rifled arms. Not invading Russia would have helped...
If evolution works in firearm design, no nation builds or uses M1 Carbines or the 30 Carbine round, but there are still 9mm submachine guns in use and being made. From that basis I would say the M1 carbine was an evolutionary dead end.

Personally, neither the M1 carbine round or a 9mm sub gun excite me all that much. Comparing either is analogous to arguing over the lethality of “Nerf balls” versus “Spit balls”.

My club has a special M1 carbine match and I won’t shoot in it any more. I can’t stand a rifle which randomly sprays rounds six inches from the aim point at 100 yards. M1 carbines are better than 45 ACP pistols as a sidearm but not by much.
The thought crossed my mind that if the Germans had employed something like the M1 Carbine INSTEAD of the MP38/40, they might have altered the speed with which they won battles or moved across Europe, altering the course of the war.

At the end of the day, planning, logistics, and tactics is what wins wars. A better gun for the average infantryman can't hurt, and might help, but in this case, I think the difference is so small as to be completely negligible.
We're talking aout the same M1 carbine that was derided during the Korean War for it's inability to penetrate the Chinese's quilted uniforms, right?

I've shot both an M1 carbine and an MP-40, and I'll take that sub-gun in a heartbeat.
But, the M1 Carbine was the original PDW, and as such, it still marches on. Nobody builds subguns like they did in WWII (either heavy and expensive as in the beginning, or cheap and disposable in the end) and, more to the point, militaries don't issue them anymore in any number - they are now the property of SWAT or special purpose units.
I think a carbine that "sprays" rounds 6" off at 100 yards is either defective, not the norm, or being operated by someone who is blaming the gun for a misplaced shot. You choose. Every carbine that I have owned has shot better than I can hold at 100 yards, but is probably STILL capable of 3-4" groups all day in competent hands. However, any given gun COULD have a shot out barrel, but that is easily fixed, and not the fault of the gun or design. People have a tendency to disparage any given gun when operator (unaware of his own) competence MIGHT be the problem.
Attached is a link to the TO&E (table of organization and equipment) for a US infantry battalion in 1944.

Scrolling down, you will note in the weapons table that there were no sub-machine guns issued. So, the army must have come to the conclusion that the M-1 carbine was superior to the Thompson.

If you have ever maintained a Thompson and kept it clean and rust free, AND carried one, you would gladly trade it in for the light weight and simplicity of the carbine.

The Germans and Japanese of WWII would agree that the fire from a platoon of GIs armed with Garands and Carbines was very effective at keeping heads down while the other platoons advanced on the bunkers and farmhouses being suppessed.
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"Is the M1 Carbine more effective than the submachinegun?"
Short answer is yes.
I still consider the M1 carbine one of the most effective urban combat and short to moderate range weapons ever developed for a number of good reasons.
Short overall length
Lightweight, half the weight of most subguns and M4/M16 weapons with all the baubles and beads strung in place.
Weapon is far more reliable than a lot of people think it is. Most of this dribble comes from initial issue problems with junk ammo, poor lubrication techniques and lack of cleaning since GIs knew the ammo was non corrosive primed. (Sound familiar?) (Oh, and the Universal made Carbine clones which were always junk and never got better.)
Can be adapted for reliable use of M2 30 shot magazines= plenty of on board firepower.
Loaded 30 round Carbine magazine weighs less than a loaded 20 shot M1A1 Thompson magazine.
Round is very effective to 100 meter urban combat range parameters. Most urban shooting occurs at ranges measured in feet, not meters or yards anyway.
Low muzzle flash, light recoil, moderate report fired in single seperate shots makes the weapon location difficult to identify if number of shots fired are kept to the minimum. (Refer back to EFFECTIVE caliber chambering) The .30 Carbine isn't the BB gun people who have never really used the weapon claim it to be.
I think it's a more effective combat weapon, I don't think it would have turned the tide in WW2.
It amazes me how the M1 gets derided for power when it's as close in power as it is to the 5.56 and 7.62X39.
The M1 carbine is still neat little gun. Less than 7 pounds. Fifteen shot magazine. Accurate to 200 yards. However it is not a history altering weapon.

Actually, its accurate a good distance beyond 200 yards. Using my early-1945 Winchester M-1 carbine, and its iron sights, I can routinely hit a 10-inch steel plate at 400 yards. If I have a spotter and calm winds I can sometimes push this out to 500 yards.

However, the carbine just isn't effective at distances much beyond 200 yards. By the time it gets out to the 400-yard plate I mentioned above, the little projectile is wheezing and panting so badly that I sometimes can't hear the impact.
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