M1 Carbine vs. M1 Thompson/M3 Grease Gun .45ACP...

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Dec 26, 2002
Deep in the Heart of the Lone Star State (TX)
I've been watching BAND OF BROTHERS this weekend, and it got me thinking about something....

The M1 .30 Carbine developed a poor reputation of stopping power during WWII. A lot of that came from the fact that it was compared to the M1 Garand i.r. stopping power (apples to oranges). The fact was, the M1 Carbine was developed for rear-echelon troops who couldn't carry Garands for whatever reason but needed more power & accuracy than the 1911's or 1917's.

What puzzles me is that many who deride the Carbine tend to praise the SMG's that we used--the M1 Thompson & the M3 "Grease Gun" as great mansstoppers. The Carbine is lighter, more accurate, & uses a cartridge that gives more range, penetration, and ballistic energy than any .45ACP round. But it supposedly pales to the power of the SMG's.

What gives?...:scrutiny:

Does anyone here have knowledge/experience w/ both to explain?

Many thanks in advance...:D
Any mention of the words 'stopping power' is likely to attract a blizzard of heated posts - some people have all manner of complex formulae to calculate it, others deny that there is such a thing at all.

What there is not is a 'magic bullet' which is guaranteed to put a man down - not even a .50 BMG will do that every time. Some people, with a massive dose of combat adrenaline in their bloodstream, carry on fighting for a while after suffering appalling and ultimately fatal injuries.

The only way to be sure of putting someone down instantly is to score a hit on the central nervous system - the brain or the spinal column. The speed with which a hit elsewhere in the body disables someone is down the extent of the tissue damage (and related bleeding) caused. Other things being equal, the bigger the bullet, the bigger the wound channel and the more rapid the disabling ability. This is where the reputation of the .45 among pistol calibres comes from. However, other things are rarely equal, so a fast-tumbling rifle bullet will inflict far more damage.

Tony Williams: Military gun and ammunition website and discussion
Lets face it, a guy with a tommy gun on a movie set is more interesting and exciting than a guy with an m1 carbine.
A guy hit by two or three 110-grain or so .30 carbine rounds may go down (most likely, he will). The odds of hitting someone with a burst of .45 slugs and him not going down are a bit lower. And since generally combat with those sort of weapons is at close range, what would you rather have? 30 rounds of 230g .45 on full auto, or 15 rounds of .30 carbine on semi?
What puzzles me is that many who deride the Carbine tend to praise the SMG's that we used--the M1 Thompson & the M3 "Grease Gun" as great mansstoppers. The Carbine is lighter, more accurate, & uses a cartridge that gives more range, penetration, and ballistic energy than any .45ACP round. But it supposedly pales to the power of the SMG's.

The m1 carbine is often measured against rifles while the SMGs are SMGs. SMGs are designed for short range. People want to employ the carbine at longer ranges where the bullet just won't perform. A full auto carbine would probably be the best of both worlds, but those didn't come along until korea or vietnam, right?
Exactly, the carbine was invariably stacked up against the Garand when compared, and almost never against the 1911, which it was intended as a supplemental replacment.

The Thompson and the M3/Greasegun were compared against the 9mm German subguns they fought against, and the British STEN's they fought alongside. The Japanese had a little 8mm Nambu subgun that was similar to the Lanchester, and the SMG's great-grandpappy the Bergmann MP18 at least externally, but it never saw any serious use.

Interestingly, the 7.62x25 SMG's like the PPSh etc. that the Soviets fielded have ballistics were more similar to the .30 carbine than anything else in use at the time. And IIRC they made more use of the SMG in front-line infantry than anybody. So you could say that the Soviets were employing very high capacity full-auto carbines after a fashion.

If you exclude the M1 carbine as a specific solution (Handgun replacment) that went nowhere beyond the full-auto M2, and with the exception for paratroopers, was never intended for general infantry use, you can follow the development of the assult rifle through the infantry doctrine of various nations. It seems that with their 7.62x25 subguns being a common front-line item for general issue, the Soviets "worked up" twoards the concept of the assult rifle post WWII to the AK, and from the M1 Garand, through the M14, the Americans "worked down" to the M16 and the assult rifle, while the Germans took a stab right at the middle with the StG44 early on, but of course it didn't get as far as it could have because they lost...
The M1 .30 Carbine developed a poor reputation of stopping power during WWII.
No, it didn't. Many WWII veterans thought it was ideal, especially those fighting in the jungle. It would penetrate available Japanese body armor, and helmets, at most jungle ranges (80 yards or less); it was light; and the ammo was mostly non-corrosive so the barrel didn't rust before your eyes.

It developed a poor reputation in Korea. While the armorys started rebuilding Garands even before WWII ended, many of the Carbines issued in Korea were not rebuilt from WWII. They were worn, and thus less accurate; and the operating mechanism proved not to be as effective as the Garand in extreme cold. It is thought by many that the lack of "stopping power" attributed to the Carbine in Korea was the result of poor marksmanship and worn weapons against a target that was heavily padded.

These internet firearm forums are their own little world. You can go to any public library and read many, many firsthand accounts by combat infantrymen. There is good reason why we made 6 million carbines.
Another possible reason for the Carbine earning a better reputation in the jungle than it did in Korea is that (by and large) cartridges develop less pressure and velocity in extreme cold than they do in the heat. This might not only affect functioning but also target effect.

Tony Williams
For whatever reason, the Carbine was VERY popular with the "heavy hitter" combat vets of WWII.

No less an expert than Audie Murphy, actually favored the carbine although, like most others he used everything.

Murphy and his "Lucky" carbine were famous, with observers reporting that he made shots that just weren't possible to make.

The SMG's were heavily favored with all combat vets, but the carbine also had a strong following.

The major WWII complaints about the "poor stopping power" of the carbine, came from a few Paratrooper generals, like General Gavin.

In WWII all most all combat took place at close range, whether in Europe or the Pacific.
Combat in Korea was at longer ranges, and the Commies were usually wearing thick, padded cotton suits that were so heavy they were actually somewhat bullet resistant.

Unremembered, is the popularity of personal .357 Magnum and .38 Super pistols with Korean War troops. The .45 auto also had problems penetrating the padded suits, but we don't hear too much about the 1911's "lack of stopping power".

In Vietnam, the carbine was again used heavily, but strangely, there aren't too many stories about stopping power and the carbine.

The carbine was designed to be a short range weapon, and as such, it did the job. Not as well as a modern assault weapon, but then the assault weapon concept didn't exist in the early 1940's when the carbine was invented.
Really, the M1 carbine is incomparable to the subguns AND to the MBR. It's really a class of its own. Now the M2 carbine, I would say, could be a subgun.

Speaking of which, are there any transferable M2 carbines out there?
'Way back in the late 1950s - - -

- - when I was growing up in El Paso, I attended a Methodist Youth group on Sunday evenings. Several teenagers and adult sponsors were in the parking lot one night, discussing deer hunting. One kid was extolling the virtues of the M1 carbine - - Light, handy, fast shooting, powerful . . . .

The pastor was a big, burly man, reputed to have raised some cain before he "got the call." He was known as a hunter and outdoorsman, and had been a P.O.W. for several months in Europe. Someone asked him his opinion about deer guns. He quietly answered, "I was an infantry company commander when we waded into Normandy on D-Day. I had a carbine and a .45 automatic. By the end of the next day, I had me an M1 rifle. It did the job where the carbine didn't."

Of course, we all wanted more details. He wouldn't elaborate except to say, "A deer's harder to knock down than a soldier." One man's opinion, but he surely earned the right to it. Oh, the former captain had kept his pistol until he was captured.

I think the comparison between the Carbine and a SMG is a good one. They were both designed to be used at short range and both fire cartridges that I would classify as "pistol" cartridges. That begs the question: What is a "pistol" Cartridge. Well, I don't have an accepted definition, only my own. And that is, the cartridge is very similar to a pistol cartridge in size, bullet weight, and velocity when fired from a handgun and it recieves a decent velocity boost when fired from a carbine length barrel. As a handgun cartridge it would compare to a weak .357 load or a hot .38 Special load. Out of a carbine, the velocity boost is about the same as those two cartridges.
With FMJ military cartridges in .30 Carbine or .45 ACP you are going to punch a hole of bullet diameter into the target. Possibly through the target. Personally, I would rather have a .451 hole through my opponent than a .308 hole.
This discussion also gets into the light/fast vs. heavy/slow argument that hasn't been solved for the last 75 years.

Does anyone have any accurate muzzle velocities from a Thompson or M3 using military ball ammo ?
From "Shots Fired in Anger" by LTC (then LT) John George, a rifle champion who fought on Quadalcanal and then in Merrill's Marauders . The Marauders walked 800 miles through jungles and the Himalayas to attack behind Japanese lines, wreaking havoc.

The oft-mentioned ability of the Tommy gun to hit and kill at ranges up to five hundred yards is pure theoretical hokum. Practically speaking, the gun will always be an ultra short range weapon, good in the jungle and in street fighting, but poor where the least measure of accuracy is called for. Another most serious limitation is poor penetration. Bullets that bounce off a hard wood surface at 50 yards are not good brush-rakers. Firing a Tommy into the jungle blindly is not effective because so many of the bullets would be stopped by vines and branches. The greater power of military rifle cartridges, fired from full-automatic rifles and machine guns would be preferable for such work. The standard Japanese bullet-proof vest, which would not even slow down a carbine bullet, stopped .45 slugs cold, whether fired from pistols or Tommy guns.

...The advent of the carbine later on in the war eliminated, in my opinion, the last need for a Tommy gun. The carbine made a much more accurate offensive weapon, and a much quicker pointing and more accurate defensive weapon. The lighter weight and greater penetrating power of the .30 caliber carbine catridge increased this superiority even more."
Pages 395-396.
The Magal SMG is actually a Kalashnikov action (so it's a souped-up .30 carbine AK), a miniature Galil rifle in .30 carbine. It came out a couple years ago, had some production problems, they pulled it the last I heard. Was intended for Israeli police use (they love the M1 carbine over there with softpoint loads......I saw like 30 or 40 of them when Iwas there, aside from the massive numbers of M16s).
I think Tony nailed the issue when he discussed putting a bullet in the central nervous system and killing an opponent instantly vs. putting a hole through the body and waiting for him or her to bleed out.

I haven't shot a Thompson or a Grease Gun--the only SMG I have shot is an Uzi--but I have shot thousands of rounds through an M1 Carbine. Admittedly this nearly a quarter of a century ago so my memory may be deluded by nostalgia, but I cannot remember ever missing my target with the M1 Carbine.

I've never been in a combat situation, but imagine if I was, I'd want an accurate carbine with which I could consistantly put bullets into my opponents brain pan. The popularity of the M1 Carbine in WWII may have had something to do with the fact that getting a headshot with it was much easier than getting a head shot with most other weapons available at the time.
My grandfather was in the 11th Airborne during WWII, and although he didn't talk about it much, he was very positive about the Carbine and the Grease Gun. My dad was in Vietnam during the early days and he had an M2 Carbine, which he was also very positive about.

Both of them saw quite a bit of action (neither one talked too much about it, tho). Grandpa said more than once that he like the Carbine better than the M1, and Dad liked the Carbine better than the M16/M14.

The combat veterans of ETO that I have asked mainly turned up their noses at the cute lil carbine. The M1 and the Thompson (old model 28) and of course the BAR were the preferred instruments to those guys. Even the officers on the front lines carried M1 rifles, I've been told.

OTOH, the POLICE OFFICERs c. 1960s - 70s loved the lil carbine as a handy patrol rifle because the got them for $19 from the NRA. Of course the AR15 at a couple hundred bucks was out of the question for those guys. Issue patrol rifle was a Win 94 30/30.
I think Tony nailed the issue when he discussed putting a bullet in the central nervous system and killing an opponent instantly vs. putting a hole through the body and waiting for him or her to bleed out.

....Second, it's not what you hit someone with, it's WHERE you hit them that matters.

Third, most police agencies changed their PISTOL round of choice to hollow points to match the stopping power of rifle rounds. I think if you look at their rifles, they're using ball ammo just like us.

Fourth, the Army and Marines have a much greater range of engagement conditions than the police. They (the police) have a very narrowly defined set of conditions to use deadly force, and the hollow point round for their pistol fill that niche. We (the grunts) aren't so lucky, therefore we have to use a RIFLE round that best suits all conditions.

The only gripe I have about military rounds is I could never get enough of them. The people I hit with ball ammo from a pistol or rifle stayed down, and stayed out of the fight.

Tracy-Paul Warrington
Chief Warrant Officer (Ret)
US Army Special Forces

Chief Warrington later reiterated the point again to the same tiresome individual:

I was in Somalia for nine months as the XO of SOCCE for UNOSOM. I have no complaints at all about the efficacy of the 5.56mm or the 9mm.

To parrot again: It's not what you hit them with, it's where you hit them. Over and over; if it's one of those 'days'....

[In response to the question, "how many rounds of 5.56 or 9mm Ball does it take to put down a bad guy?]

Well, the minimum amount is one.

The maximum I've done is three or four. My rule of thumb is two during CQC (ranges less than 25m). At ranges beyond 25 meters, one round, one target. Target moves, one more round. You don't have time to d*ck around trying to head-shoot everybody ("so many enemy, so little time...").

Keep in mind that you are moving, shooting and communicating; trying to get inside the enemy's attack loop before he gets inside yours.

With regards to actual shot placement, there one, and only one, spot that will give you a 'hard' (instantaneous) kill: the medulla oblongotta (sic). It's the organ that sits atop the spinal column at the base of the skull. If you were to draw a horizontal line from the tip of the nose to the ear hole, around the back to the other ear hole and back to the nose; you'd have the shot line to aim for. Whatever part of the line is exposed to you, aim to split the line in two.

With regards to soft kills (fatal but not instantly so...), anywhere along the centerline of the human body from neck to nuts will do the trick. Just aim for the center of available mass exposed. If the enemy is peeking around a corner exposing one half of his body, aim for the center of what you see. Don't interpolate your shot. The hydrostatic shock from the 5.56mm round will take of damaging the internal organs.

Sometimes you'll get a mobility kill, which greatly simplifies your moving target problem. Just be careful not to dwadle for a careful shot and get yourself hit in the process. Practicing headshots is great, but getting a torso hit is a LOT easier in a dynamic situation.

Remember, shooting the enemy is not a priority. The FIRST priority is the mission. Your SECOND priority is your teamate's asses. THIRD priority is your ???. You shoot bad guys because they're interferring with your priorities.
Just a thought but perhaps the M1 carbine wasn't compared with the SMGs because the people that normally got the M1 wouldn't have gotten an SMG anyway. They would likely have had an M1911-A1 or perhaps a Garand. I imagine the SMGs were given to the front line troops, where the M1 Carbine was for support personnel and rear echelon troops.

Anyways, shooting the enemy in head? I don't think that, when the adrenaline is flowing hard and you are scurrying around trying not to get your stuff blown away, many people could get a headshot on even a still target. And, from all the accounts I've heard, the people who are shot with a rifle drop almost all the time. They might get back up again, they might not be dead but it is faster, I think, to get a COM shot than a headshot. And speed counts.
EB Sledge, the Marine mortarman who wrote "With the Old Breed in Pelieu and Okanawa" and "China Marine" carried a Thompson SMG for defensive purposes. His offensive weapon was the mortar of course, but he had to have an effective rapid fire weapon to protect himself.

He also carried his father's 1911, as the Marines didn't give him a sidearm.
The Magal is a special run. Only for the police because they have several inconveniently large warehouses of .30 Carbine ammo. Once that is out, they will switch to...something else. Probably M4s like everyone else in Israel suddenly is.
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