Shortly before World War II, the U.S. Army started a “light rifle” project to provide support personnel and rear area units more firepower and accuracy than the standard issue M1911A1 .45 ACP caliber handgun at half the weight of the M1 Garand rifle or the .45 Thompson submachine gun. The .30 Carbine cartridge was developed by Winchester and is basically a rimless .30 caliber (7.62 mm) version of the much older .32 Winchester Self-Loading cartridge of 1906 introduced for the Winchester Model 1905 rifle. The propellant was much newer, though, taking advantage of chemistry advances. The cartridge’s relatively straight case and the rounded nose of its bullet led some to believe it was designed for use in pistols.
At first, Winchester was tasked with developing the cartridge but did not submit a carbine design. Other firms and individual designers submitted several carbine designs, but most prototypes were either unreliable or grossly off the target weight of five pounds. Maj. Rene Studler persuaded Winchester that the Winchester M2 .30-06 rifle, a design started by Ed Browning and perfected by Winchester engineer Marshall Williams, could be scaled down for the .30 Carbine cartridge.
The M1 Carbine was issued to infantry officers, machine gun, artillery and tank crews, paratroopers and other line-of-communications personnel in lieu of the larger, heavier M1 Garand. The weapon was originally issued with a 15-round detachable magazine. The Carbine and cartridge were not intended to serve as a primary infantry weapon, nor was it comparable to more powerful intermediate cartridges later developed for assault rifles. The M2 Carbine was introduced late in WWII with a selective-fire switch allowing optional fully automatic fire at a rather high rate (850–900 rpm) and a 30-round magazine. The M1 and M2 Carbines continued in service during the Korean War. A postwar U.S. Army evaluation reported on the weapon’s cold-weather shortcomings, and noted complaints of failure to stop heavily clothed North Korean and Chinese troops at close range after multiple hits. An assessment of this rumor that the M1 carbine has difficulty penetrating a heavily clothed target produced a result contrary to the rumor during testing at close range during warm conditions.