The years following World War I were not kind to the Winchester Repeating Arms, Co. The loans taken out during the war to expand their facilities were now due, and after attempts to recover by 1931 Winchester was sold to Olin Industries, Inc who also owned United States Cartridge Company. The years following would see renewed production as American allies went to war against the Axis and after Pearl Harbor the United States entered the war in the Atlantic and Pacific.
The semi-automatic M1 Garand developed by John C. Garand at the Springfield Army was chosen, in 1936, to replace Springfield’s 1903 as the standard rifle of the Army. However production slowed as Springfield adapted to the gas system of the Garand.
In 1939, the Ordnance Department approached Olin about making M1s. This was a decision John Olin didn’t take lightly since it was government contracts and factory expansion which contributed to the financial losses that cost Winchester the company. In the end, Olin agreed to an educational order of 500 M1 Rifles. While the New Haven, Connecticut company was still working on the educational order, the government offered a second contract of over 60,000 rifles. When the United States officially entered World War II, demand increased and by the end of the war Winchester had made over half a million M1 Garands.
While the Garands were the standard rifle, Winchester had developed what would be the most utilized firearm during the war. A few years prior to the United States entering the war the M1 Carbine was developed at Winchester.
The War Department issued a demand for a light rifle in June 1940. Designs were solicited by arms manufacturers and private makers. The Ordnance Department wanted the cartridge of this new rifle to be a .30 caliber, and ordered this ammunition from Winchester. The first round of tests was unsuccessful, and a second round scheduled for September 1941.
Winchester did not submit their design in the first round, due to fulfilling the orders of M1 rifles, but with some unofficial encouragement and working around the clock to tweak their design, the company entered the second round. Their design was adopted as the U.S. Carbine, Caliber .30, M1. The government purchased the manufacturing rights soon after. Winchester produced approximately 830,000 of the over 6,000,000 carbines manufactured during the war.
The M1 Carbine was seven inches shorter than the M1 rifle, and almost five pounds lighter. For swiftly moving or airborne troops the lightweight, rapidly firing carbine was just what they needed. American as well as allied troops carried the M1 Carbine in both theaters of war.
“My carbine was constantly with me during our training in Hawaii preparatory to landing at Iwo Jima, during the recuperation period back in Hawaii after the Iwo campaign, through the period of time we landed in Sasebo Harbor in Japan and received the surrender of naval academy personnel there, and finally accompanied me back to the states where I was discharged”. Col. Martin Reinemann, USMC (ret.).
Reinemann would have his carbine as he watched the flag being raised on Mount Suribachi on February 23, 1945 and continued to carry it through almost one month more of some of the harshest fighting during the war until on March 26, 1945 when the island was declared secure.
Reinemann was one of millions of American servicemen to carry the M1 Carbine, this number also included the most decorated hero of World War II, Audie Murphy. Murphy, like many soldiers and Marines, preferred the lightweight rifle while trudging through forests in France or the jungle terrain of the Pacific. Murphy carried his M1 Carbine in actions against a German machine gun hold, taking out a German sniper both in France in 1944, as well as the action that earned him the Medal of Honor. Ordering his men to retreat he stood alone shooting his carbine and directing artillery fire before mounting an abandoned tank destroyer and firing its .50 caliber machine gun at the Germans. He stopped only after running out of ammunition. Though wounded during the standoff, Murphy remained with his men while his wounds were treated.
The servicemen on the frontlines weren’t the only individuals depending on the M1 carbine. Below is an image of U.S. Army nurses reassembling an M1 Carbine. These nurses stationed at a forward medical training center in the Central Pacific faced threats even as they administered treatment Medical personnel though listed as noncombatant and prohibited from carrying weapons, began carrying the lightweight carbine because the Japanese did not respect the Western rules of war granting special protection to medical personnel. Therefore, it was common for the doctors, nurses, etc. to carry a weapon in the Pacific Theater. The Marine equipment lists from March 1944 for an infantry battalion lists carbine with this note, “includes 42 reserve for medical personnel when required in accordance with the Rules of Land Warfare.” There were a total of 42 corpsmen in a Marine infantry battalion. Again it was the reduced length and weight which made the carbine an ideal weapon for medical personnel, especially the medics/corpsmen required to move swiftly and carry additional weight of the wounded through hostile terrain.
The M1 Carbine was produced in such mass quantities that by 1944 most of the government contracts were terminated, leaving Winchester as one of only two factories manufacturing the carbine. Just prior to the official surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945 the contract with Winchester was cancelled, as well, and the New Haven factory faced the task of transferring or laying off workers, a task Olin had already faced at their ammunitions factories.
The M1 Carbine remained popular with American and foreign military and police forces into the 1960s and the early days of the Vietnam War.
Continued with post The War at Home: Women in the Workforce and WWII in Wyoming
Letters and memorandums in MS20, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company Archive, ca. 1917-1919. Gift of the Olin Corporation, Winchester Arms Collection
Copies of Winchester Records MS20, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company Archive, ca. 1918. Gift of the Olin Corporation, Winchester Arms Collection
Newsletter #281, March 1, 2000, MS455 M1 Carbine Club Archive, McCracken Library, Buffalo Bill Center of the West
Newsletter #379, July 1, 2014, MS455 M1 Carbine Club Archive, McCracken Library, Buffalo Bill Center of the West
Newsletter #383, MS455 M1 Carbine Club Archives, McCracken Research Library, Buffalo Bill Center of the West
Images of M1 Carbine, M1 Garand courtesy of MS20, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company Archive. Gift of the Olin Corporation, Winchester Arms Collection, MS6 William F. Cody Collection
Image of Army Nurses courtesy of MS455 M1 Carbine Club Archive, Newsletter #379, July 1, 2014