The M1 Carbine and The Story of War Hero Jack Lucas

At age 17, Jack Lucas was the youngest recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor in the history of the US Marine Corps.

In August of 1942, Jack Lucas forged his mother’s name on an enlistment document and fraudulently enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He was fourteen years old at the time. His was a muscular build, so he could pass for an adult in dim light.

After successfully completing training as a machine gunner he was assigned to the V Amphibious Corps at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. By all accounts, he was an exemplary Marine. When his commander discovered his true age it was resolved to sideline Jack so he could avoid combat and grow old in peace. In response, Jack went AWOL carrying nothing more than his dungarees and field shoes and stowed away aboard an assault transport ship headed for Iwo Jima. One day before he was to have been declared a deserter Lucas turned himself into Captain Robert Dunlap and was assigned to Dunlap’s rifle company. Lucas celebrated his 17th birthday five days before the Iwo Jima invasion.

On February 19, 1945, Jack Lucas was part of a four-man fire team that was working its way toward a Japanese airstrip via an enemy trench system. While taking cover from an enemy pillbox they spotted eleven Japanese soldiers in a parallel trench and a fierce firefight ensued. A Japanese grenade arced into the trench with the Marines, landing just beyond the point man.

Jack vaulted over the top of his comrade and yelled, “Grenades!” before throwing himself on top of the sizzling bomb. A second Japanese grenade followed the first and landed nearby. Lucas grabbed that one as well and pulled them both underneath his body. The first grenade exploded, throwing Lucas over and onto his back. He still gripped the second grenade, a dud, in his left hand.

Jack Lucas was ripped in his right arm, wrist, leg, and thigh, as well as his chest. His comrades justifiably thought he was dead and abandoned him to continue the mission. A follow-on unit found him barely alive and assigned a corpsman to his care.

As the Navy corpsman struggled to keep Jack from bleeding out, a Japanese soldier charged them both, bayonet fixed. The corpsman dropped his medical gear and snatched up his M1 carbine, killing the Japanese soldier with a couple of quick rounds before he got close enough to do any harm. This lightweight rifle was intended to serve as an effective combat weapon that was easy to carry by second-line troops for whom direct combat with the enemy was not their primary mission.

Morphology

The M1 carbine saw service with Allied forces in all theaters of operation during World War II.

The M1 carbine that this corpsman carried was designed as a Personal Defense Weapon of sorts. This lightweight combat implement represented an effort to combine the portability of a handgun with the innate accuracy and magazine capacity of an autoloading rifle. This compact weapon ultimately saw widespread issue throughout all combat theaters.

The rifle we call the M1 Garand was a superb battle tool, but it was too long, heavy, and ungainly for use by specialist troops. If your job was running an artillery piece, emplacing a mortar, or stringing commo wire you needed something handier. The M1911A1 pistol of the day was a superb combat handgun, but it still left its operator at a disadvantage when confronted with enemy riflemen.

The original design was influenced by any number of interesting characters. One was David Marsh Williams, a convicted murderer who conjured gun designs while in prison. Another was Ed Browning, brother of the famed American gun designer John Moses Browning. Winchester ultimately bodged together the winning prototype in a mere thirteen days.

The selective fire M2 carbine was the first-line weapon with American troops during the Korean War.

The M1 carbine was as much a revolutionary cartridge as it was a rifle. The .30-carbine 7.62x33mm round pushed a 110-grain jacketed bullet to just a bit short of 2,000 feet per second. The rimless case sports the tiniest taper to ensure reliable extraction and feeds nicely through a steel box magazine. Almost all magazines used during WW2 were stubby boxes packing fifteen rounds onboard. Thirty-round curved magazines saw very limited use at the end of the war but were commonplace in Korea and later in Vietnam.

The carbine was popular with both ARVN and Viet Cong troops during the war in Vietnam. Here it is shown in the hands of a VC irregular.

The design of the M1 carbine evolved substantially over time, and there has arisen an Internet-based religion that orbits around the nuances of collecting. Ten different major manufacturers produced around 6.1 million carbines, making this lithe little rifle the most produced American small arm of the war. At the height of production, we were producing 65,000 carbines per day.

In an effort at enhancing the firepower capability of the weapon a selective fire version called the M2 carbine was introduced in October of 1944. Though there were purportedly very few of these versions to see combat before the end of the war, a friend’s dad found one unattended aboard a transport ship during the invasion of Iwo Jima and brought it home as a souvenir.

The M1A1 was an airborne-specific version that sported a side-folding wire stock. While the M1A1 certainly earns some cool points I have found the folding stock to be underwhelming in actual use. The bare steel is uncomfortable, and the stock lacks a positive retention device when either deployed or stowed.

The M3 was the same basic carbine fitted with an early IR night scope and flash hider. These cumbersome rigs had a short range, around 75 meters. However, they yielded superb service during night operations in the Pacific islands at the very end of the war.

Early carbines sported a pushbutton safety alongside the pushbutton magazine release. This caused some troops to inadvertently jettison their magazines when attempting to press off the safety. I have done this myself before. A later rotating safety lever successfully addressed this deficit. The vast majority of WW2-era carbines lacked a bayonet lug. These appendages were added later during the rebuild process. Early rear sights consisted of a simple pivoting dual aperture, while later versions were easily adjusted for both windage and elevation.

Trigger Time

The M1 carbine was a lightweight maneuverable rifle to be used by second line troops as a sort of Personal Defense Weapon. This is an early version produced by the Rockola Music Company.

The M1 carbine is a joy to run. Lightweight and maneuverable, the gun is all but recoilless and turned out to be adequately reliable under hard use. A friend who served as an Infantry officer in Korea traded his M2 carbine for an M1 Garand out of reliability concerns but admitted that the M2 remained popular for its modest weight and full auto capability.

The charging handle reciprocates with the bolt and can be manhandled if things get sticky. The trigger is pleasantly crisp, and the gun renders proper combat accuracy out to a couple hundred meters. The bolt does not lock to the rear on the last round fired, though there is a manual bolt latch that can be used for inspection and cleaning. I find that the low bore axis lends itself to decent accuracy but also results in a fairly cluttered sight picture given the ample protective fencing built around the sights.

The M1A1 carbine was an airborne-specific arm designed to be more compact than the standard rifle. The M1A1 carbine was an airborne-specific arm designed to be more compact than the standard rifle.

The folding wire stock of the M1A1 was fairly rickety in action and uncomfortable to use.

Early carbines had both the pushbutton safety and magazine release located side by side. This caused some consternation given to the tendency to drop the magazine when trying to press off the safety in a hurry.

Early M1 carbine sights were simple L-shaped flip-adjustable apertures.

The two-cell M1 carbine magazine pouch carried a brace of fifteen-round magazines and could ride on either the belt or the stock of the rifle.

Later model M1 and M2 carbines sported a bayonet lug, adjustable rear sight, and sundry minor upgrades.

Later safeties were rotating levers rather than the earlier pushbuttons.

Bayonet lugs were added to carbines during post-war refurbishment programs.

The 7.62x33mm carbine cartridge was a significant improvement over common handgun rounds in use at the time. From left to right are the 9mm Parabellum, the .30 carbine, and the .45ACP.

Ruminations

Jack Lucas was in combat for less than forty-eight hours. During that time he became the youngest member of the Marine Corps to be awarded the Medal of Honor. He carried more than 200 pieces of Japanese shrapnel within his body up until the day he died of leukemia in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, at the age of 80. He is the only soldier in military history with whom I am familiar to dive on two live grenades simultaneously and survive.

When Jack and I first exchanged correspondence he found out I was a veteran and wrote, “Thank you for your service.” As a nation how do we make heroes like this? I get choked up just thinking about his story.

The M1 carbine has been derided for being insufficiently powerful to serve as an Infantry combat rifle. This is an unfair characterization. The carbine was never intended to supplant the M1 Garand. It was intended to replace the M1911A1 handgun and in this capacity was simply superlative. A friend who carried one for nearly a year in combat in Europe during World War 2 once told me that the carbine lent itself to multiple rounds on target very quickly and was completely effective in practical use. Given his pedigree, I would trust his opinion.

The M1 carbine is a fantastic recreational plinking platform that will also render proper service as a home defense arm even 76 years after its introduction. Examples can be had at a variety of price points right here on GunsAmerica, and the gun remains in production today. Proven, maneuverable, lightweight, and fun, the M1 carbine served the military well through three wars.

Special thanks to www.worldwarsupply.com for the replica gear used to outfit our period paratrooper.

Technical Specifications

M1 Carbine

Caliber                  7.62x33mm

Weight                  5.2 lbs Empty

Length                  35.6 in

Barrel Length        18 in

Action                  Gas-Operated Rotating Bolt

Rate of Fire (M2)  750 rpm

Sights                   Rear Aperture either L-Type Flip or Adjustable/Front Wing-Protected Post

Feed System         15 or 30-round Detachable Box Magazine

 

Performance Specifications

M1 Carbine

Load                       Velocity        Feet per Second                  Group Size (Inches)

Handloaded 110 gr FMJ           1999                                                  2.45

Group size represents the best 4 of 5 shots fired from a simple rest over open sights at fifty meters. Velocity is the average of three shots clocked through a Caldwell Precision Ballistic Chronograph oriented ten feet from the muzzle.

***Shop GunsAmerica for your next historical gun***

About the author: Will Dabbs was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, having been immersed in hunting and the outdoors since his earliest recollections. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Mississippi and is the product of a traditional American nuclear family. Where most normal American kids get drunk to celebrate their 21st birthday, Will bought his first two machineguns. Will served eight years as an Army Aviator and accumulated more than 1,100 flight hours piloting CH47D, UH1H, OH58A/C, and AH1S helicopters. He is scuba qualified, has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning, and has summited Mt. McKinley, Alaska–the highest point in North America–six times (at the controls of a helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains). For reasons that seemed sagacious at the time he ultimately left the Army as a Major to pursue medical school. Dr. Dabbs has for the last dozen years owned the Urgent Care Clinic of Oxford, Mississippi. He also serves as the plant physician for the sprawling Winchester ammunition plant in that same delightful little Southern town. Will is a founding partner of Advanced Tactical Ordnance LLC, a licensed 07/02 firearms manufacturer and has written for the gun press for a quarter century. He writes solely to support a shooting habit that is as insensate as it is insatiable. Will has been married to his high school sweetheart for more than thirty years and has taught his Young Married Sunday School class for more than a decade. He and his wife currently have three adult children and a most thoroughly worthless farm dog named Dog.

{ 22 comments… add one }
  • Steve September 19, 2018, 3:53 pm

    what is the deal with that (apparent) severed right hand on the M1 Carbine Churchill is shooting in that picture? is that some famous photo I am not familiar with?

  • Mike Rule September 19, 2018, 6:49 am

    Its my PCC with the paratrooper stock on. Better bang for the buck then all those Star Wars PCC’s and handier than a new Ruger PCC cut in half.

    Plastic is for dildos- these weapons were made for MEN

  • Harold smith September 18, 2018, 5:46 pm

    Is this the same Major Dabbs,
    that taught me the Charlie model hover, in a mike model Huey, in the 278th

  • Norm Fishler September 18, 2018, 12:40 pm

    My first centerfire rifle was an M1 Carbine at age 21, and for these past 50 years, I have loved them ever since. Light, handy and easy to maneuver, inside or out of doors. I have found that it is perfect for training women how to shoot a self defense rifle, unlike those scary, black AR-15s. A word of caution is that one should stick with the WWII surplus rifles and avoid the Plainfields, Universals and the IJs like the plague. They just do not work, and if they do work for a while, it will not be for very long.

  • mike w September 17, 2018, 2:30 pm

    my wife corresponded with a fellow marine whom was on iwo with them, his name was robert walker also from hattiesburg. he introduced me to jack lucas , not in person,only what i read about the man. what a fantastic story of survival and determanation as his semper fi Mike

  • Who knows September 17, 2018, 1:33 pm

    Great article. I picked up my carbine for $125 in Arizona back in the early 1990s. It’s an old surplus model and shoots great. I used to use it to show ladies how to shoot. I’ve been curious though why nobody has come out with Ammo for it with spitzer bullets. Anyone know the answer?

  • Leonard Feinman September 17, 2018, 12:53 pm

    In 1966-67 I was in Vietnam and my carry rifle was the M-14. It was a great gun but functionally, could only be fired in semi-auto mode. One day, one of our guys came up with an M-2 version of the Carbine. We lined up to fire it, one by one, but before it came my time to test fire it, the bolt blew apart.
    My final year in the army had me at White Sands Missle Range, under the Continental Army Command. We did not carry weapons there, as it was mostly civilians doing the work. But army regs said we had to qualify, so they took us to the range and gave us M-1 Carbines. It was my first time shooting this fun gun. I fired expert, though everybody complained it was an inaccurate weapon. I would fire and a paster would fly off the target. Soon, as I repeated this over and over again, I realized my C.O. was standing behind me, and his comment was “That rifle is not THAT accurate.” I just smiled.

    • tom September 18, 2018, 9:28 pm

      I also had an M14 in Vietnam in 68 and it would shoot full auto with a selector switch. Was like shooting a BAR

  • Jake September 17, 2018, 12:53 pm

    I love the Carbine. I like the somewhat larger M2 stock used on rebuilds after the war and during Korea. I have some 1942 Winchester ammo I have been using for years. Non-corrosive, it works like the new stuff. Before some cartridge collector freaks out, I have not touched a bandoleer with cardboard inserts and rounds loaded on stripper clips.
    I have one parts gun with the Ultimak rail and red dot which is an amazing combo. With two and a half times the muzzle energy of the .45 acp it is a dandy home defense piece.
    The late Myron Olson R-IL, a state legislator told me a Carbine story. He was a sergeant in the Signal Corps with the Army of Occupation in Japan in 1946. He said they had to take turns standing guard duty and there was a Carbine in the corner of the office which was used by whoever was on guard duty. It was an M1 and it had a 30 round mag. One night he was the guard and spotted a boat loaded with stolen supplies pulling away from the electronics warehouse the Signal Corps guarded on Tokyo Bay. He called out for them to stop and when they didn’t he fired a warning shot intended to whiz near the man in the front of the boat. He pulled the trigger and the rifle went full auto hitting and killing the guy in the front of the boat. He fired 27 rounds in a split second expecting one. Someone in the office had obtained an M2 and switched it out for the M1 they had all been using for months without telling anyone! The commanding general lived in a chateau nearby on the bay and was awakened. He said that for waking him up unless they had killed somebody they were going to be in deep s….

  • Gregory Romeu September 17, 2018, 12:02 pm

    Will Dabbs earned my respect from the very first sentence of this article. It is the first time reading any of his material and he had me magnetized all the way to the last word.

    Mr. Dabbs, thank you for your service and thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  • Richard eric bloomfield September 17, 2018, 10:50 am

    +
    When i arrived in Vietnam as a !st LT with the 5th Special Forces Gp (abn), my indig were using the M2 carbine.
    There were significant moral problems as a consequence. The 30 cal carbine round has no knock down power, and the operating rod was subject to breakage, as I had 2 break on me.
    When , 8 months later, my indig were issued M 16s, they were in Hog Heaven, and moral hit an all time high, as did their eagerness to get into firefights.

  • Don Davis September 17, 2018, 10:20 am

    Mr. Lucas got out of the Corps and attended High Point College ( now High Point University). If I remember correctly, he enlisted in the Army and was jump qualified. His Medal of Honor is on display in the library of HPU, as he bequeathed it to the school.

  • Paul Hinson September 17, 2018, 10:11 am

    When I was 12 I killed my first dear with my dads Universal 30 Carbine! Great memories!

    • Recon September 17, 2018, 1:12 pm

      My goodness! I hope you mean deer.

  • Brian Holden September 17, 2018, 9:08 am

    Another great story from the best gun writer in the business. Whenever you see the Will Dabbs byline, with or without the MD, you know you will find an interesting, informative and above all entertaining article. Other gun writers, no doubt worthy people, bore you to death with endless statistics and ballistic coefficients, Will Dabbs grabs your attention from the first sentence and keeps you there .
    Looking forward to many more.

  • Clint Wilde September 17, 2018, 9:06 am

    As an owner of a WW II collectible, although it did pass through the armory postwar and is refurbed with the bayonet lug, plus a post war commercial model. These are the perfect ‘fun gun’ to shoot. My collectible is complete with mag pouch on the stock and bayonet which I use when our club has its vintage military rifle competition. The commercial one, a Universal,I bought from ‘Monkey Ward’ around 1972 and is my plinker. If you want to get above the 22 and not deal with necked down calibers for just plinking this is the model. If you reload your own ammo, quite affordable too.

  • Altoids September 17, 2018, 6:59 am

    Great article. As a kid my dad had one of these. What a joy to shoot it was.

  • Kraig Figgins September 17, 2018, 5:52 am

    Great story on the M1 carbine. Jack Lucas, thanks for your service Marine!! Will Dabbs, thank you for this great story and please continue writing. Thanks for your service as well. Kraig Figgins

  • Billy M Rhodes September 17, 2018, 5:31 am

    Saw one at the range on Friday being shot by the son and grandson of the owner. The story was that the rifle was given to the owner upon retirement. I am not sure how they got away with it. The stock was carved with a wolf’s head and the pistol grip had been checkered. Also about eight years ago I visited Masada, the historic site in Israel. There were two IDF paramedics there with M1 carbines made by Winchester.

  • Doc (FMF) September 16, 2018, 6:35 am

    A correction: If you check the awards manuals/instructions of each of the military you will see that it is the Medal of Honor. The word congressional is incorrect.

    • Recon September 17, 2018, 1:21 pm

      Based upon the current congress, I am pleased to exclude the term “congressional” when identifying the “Medal of Honor”.

  • Mike V September 15, 2018, 9:15 pm

    A+, great read, thank you.

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