M38 TS Carcano Carbine: Brilliant or Rubbish?

I would like to propose that the M38 TS Carcano carbine was, despite the poor reputation of the Carcano series of rifles, one of the best thought out bolt action weapons of World War 2. Why, you ask? Well, let’s consider…

Only a few nations actually recognized the short ranges at which combat actually took place. Germany was one, as seen with it’s 8x33mm cartridge development, and Italy was another. The sights on the M38 series of carbines were made as simple fixed notches, with no adjustments to be knocked out of place unintentionally. With a 200 meter zero (or 150 meters, with the Finnish replacement front sight), the weapon needed no adjustment to make hits out to 300 meters, which is as far as anyone could realistically engage a target.

The M38 TS is a light and handy weapon compared to its contemporaries – 8.1 pounds and 40.2 inches (3.7kg and 1.02m) – and it fired a significantly lighter cartridge as well. The 7.35x51mm round used a 128gr (8.3g) bullet at 2400-2500 fps (735-755 m/s) depending on barrel length. This produced noticeably less recoil than rounds like the .30-06 or 8mm Mauser, which made it easier for troops to shoot effectively. The Carcano also had a 6-round capacity and fed with Mannlicher type clips, which are potentially faster to load than Mauser-type stripper clips.

Today we will discuss the M38 and these features (along with its predecessor, the M91 rifle) as they appear on paper. At the same time, over on InRangeTV, today we have the first stage of a 2-Gun Action Challenge Match in which I am shooting this M38TS Carcano against Karl, who is using a Mauser K98k – so we will see how the theory works out in the field!

72 Comments

  1. I think combat ranges can differ. “Insurgents” tend to pop you from further away, if they can, because it increases there chance of survival presumably. Couldn’t it… The short range thing, be to do with optics I.e. A lack of. If two conventional opposing armies have optics, wouldn’t the range increase?

    • I mean it might just be me, but assault rifles… Aren’t they a WW1 idea that came to late; nobody fires full auto outside of “trench” range, even with 5.56mm. The combat ranges from WW2 involved people firing at each other with open sights- Folks are quite hard to see without optics any further out, surely contacts would happen further out if both sides have optics particularly modern optics.

      • I’m just saying, if the… If some technologically advanced army, puts optics onto AK’s. They’ll be able to see us, and we them… And if there isn’t any trenches, wouldn’t both sides fire, and quite possibly hit at 400 now as oppose 300, a lot of enemy personnel can be “got rid of” within 100yrds. Off topic slightly, but linked: You do need the ballistics if you can see the blightlers.

      • Tripod mounted Vickers guns are more accurate than bipod mounted Gpmgs or Pkms, at range. With optics long range massed fire could perhaps be more effective than bipod mounted machine guns, in relation to achieving hits… Then “clean up” any stragglers at under 300 etc with bipod mounted machine guns.

      • “assault rifles… Aren’t they a WW1 idea that came to late; nobody fires full auto outside of “trench” range, even with 5.56mm.”
        Generally assault rifle were created as solution to observed weakness of sub-machine guns (low range) and automatic rifles (uncontrollable in full-auto mode). Concerning full-auto vs intermediate cartridge see RPD:
        http://modernfirearms.net/machine/rus/degtyarov-rpd-e.html

      • Interestingly, practically every army in Europe was interested in “intermediate cartridges” and “assault rifles” before World War One, and the interest continued clear up to World War Two.

        The French were in fact leading the pack;

        Towards a “600 m” lightweight General Purpose Cartridge,v2017

        http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/Emeric2017.pdf

        Assault Rifles and Their Ammunition:
        History and Prospects

        http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/GPC.pdf

        One notable fact is that one of the French developments, the 8mm Ribeyrolle intended for a blowback-operated carbine based on the Winchester M 1907, was a necked-down .351 WSL cartridge that bore a startling resemblance to the modern-day .300 Blackout round.

        And oh yes, V. G. Fyodorov, of “Fyodorov automat” fame, considered that the ideal “intermediate” military rifle/LMG round was… the .25 Remington, introduced in 1906.

        I wonder if he ever took a look at the .257 Roberts?

        For that matter, with all the military enthusiasm for 6.5mm class rounds today, is anybody looking at it now?

        cheers

        eon

        • .257 Roberts = 7x57mm yes?
          Fëderov actually favored his own 6.5mm cartridge, but in Czarist times bowed to the 6.5x50SR Arisaka of the recently victorious Japanese. It was another of his Soviet-era apprentices who argued that .25 Remington, e.g. 6.54x52mm with a 100 grain bullet @ 2350 fps and 1300 ft-lbs. of energy represented an ideal caliber for infantry weapons.

          • “.257 Roberts = 7x57mm yes?”
            No, Roberts is .257 when 7×57 is .275 (.275 Rigby).
            .257 Roberts was created by necking down 7×57.

          • “It was another of his Soviet-era apprentices who argued that .25 Remington, e.g. 6.54x52mm with a 100 grain bullet @ 2350 fps and 1300 ft-lbs. of energy represented an ideal caliber for infantry weapons.”
            Fyodorov does not designed weapons after 1920s, but was active in scientific-research area of fire-arms:
            http://www.bratishka.ru/archiv/2011/11/2011_11_6.php
            states that yet in 1939, he considered that future cartridge should shot at least as flat as 7,62x54R at caliber* should be 6-6,25 mm for lowering mass and size of firearms. In 1945 he claimed («Исследование дальнейших путей повышения эффективности стрельбы из стрелкового оружия») that lowering caliber is that way, but it was ignored as Soviet Union, lacked technology for production of these at that time.
            * in Russian sense, inner diameter of barrels (lands)

        • “One notable fact is that one of the French developments, the 8mm Ribeyrolle intended for a blowback-operated carbine based on the Winchester M 1907, was a necked-down .351 WSL cartridge that bore a startling resemblance to the modern-day .300 Blackout round.”
          Both very heavily influenced by requirements of weapons – 8×35 mm Ribeyrolle: http://www.municion.org/8/8x35Ribeyrolle.htm
          as for usage in blow-back weapons and .300 Blackout as it is supposed to fit into 5,56×45 mm magazines.

    • “If two conventional opposing armies have optics, wouldn’t the range increase?”
      Depended on environment, for example I have doubts if optical sights would increase range in urban environment, though for environment: steppe it might have such effect.

        • Did you know SA80 fire, L85 whatever… Is taught as being from the hip essentially, it’s basically throw a grenade and spray.

          I just think perhaps times have changed.

        • Well it is. It’s essentially perfect. In the original form, you fire that; Objective achieved- Dead enemy combatant, almost guaranteed.

          In iron sight range.

          • “Ppsh again, not something achieved by an AK from the hip.”
            AK replace PPSh, it was even designated as “sub-machine gun” in East Germany (MPi-K), additionally notice that AK will have better penetration than PPSh (assuming analog cartridges), which must be considering more careful now than when PPSh was designed, as popularity of personal armor is higher.

          • With 25″ barrel bullpubs with high quality optics I’m confident we could inflict noticeable damage on open sights Ak users.

          • You’ll then surrender after the Bayonet charge and we can all friends again, humane prisoner treatment what are you worried about?

      • Mountain warfare is another place where proper optics can be very useful. As in Afghanistan today, where engagement ranges often are in the 600 to 800 meter bracket.

        Having a rifle or GPMG able to “reach out and touch someone” at 2/3rds of a mile or more is more useful if you can actually see what (or who) you are shooting at.

        Especially if “who” is hunkered down in a rock sangar, and about the only thing visible is his weapon and his head.

        cheers

        eon

  2. “The 7.35x51mm round used a 128gr (8.3g) bullet at 2400-2500 fps (735-755 m/s) depending on barrel length. This produced noticeably less recoil than rounds like the .30-06 or 8mm Mauser, which made it easier for troops to shoot effectively.”
    This cartridge has (relatively) mid ballistic, but Italian forces decided to switch from older 6,5 mm Caracano in misfortunate moment. Italy recognized need for self-loading rifle, one effect was Armaguerra Modello 1939
    https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armaguerra_Mod._39
    originally 6,5 mm which needed to be reworked to 7,35 mm caliber. I presume that similar data (8,3 g @ 735-755 m/s) might be attained from 6,5 mm if they would introduce Spitzer bullet for it, Japanese 6,5 mm Arisaka fired Spitzer bullet giving 9,3 g @ 730 m/s from Type 38 rifle.

  3. My father owned one of these, in 7.35, purchased retail from the same sporting goods store that Oswald bought his 6.5 by mail-order. He also had quite a few graying boxes of Italian army surplus ammunition. He claimed he could never hit anything with it but that his friend M. displayed excellent marksmanship whenever borrowing it. I never shot it but handled it often; the bolt could be worked very quickly and a ballistics expert hired by CBS News was able to replicate (and beat) Oswald’s (if Oswald alone) time hitting three motorcade-speed targets from eight stories up. Agreed that it is a handy and practical weapon. I now regret failing to inherit it.

    • And remember that long narrow bullets tend to tumble after impact. Kennedy was doomed, since there was no barrier to block or deflect the shots that got him in the neck and head. The result was his brains splattered all over because tumbling bullets don’t make clean wounds. Did I mess up?

      • While the 6th floor Museum in Dallas replicated the final and fatal shot, so it could have been done by Oswald from the 6th floor of the Book Depository, the ract remains that the throat wound plunged straight through, and then hit Governor Connally in various places and then turned up largely intact on the gurney at the hospital having caused 7 wounds in two men… Admittedly a taller order than shooting the POTUS–again “not advocating it”–with the third round in the six-round Mannlicher-style clip before ditching the piece having wiped much of it down, and then racing downstairs…

    • LDC:

      Don’t believe the MSM! The rifleman hired by CBS, who was of course an expert, could only match the shooting attributed to Lee Harvey Oswald after several attempts, something they kept quiet. LHO would have had only one attempt.

      Chern:

      It is my understanding that the long, round nosed bullets were quite stable when they hit, resulting in a wound that was easier to treat. That may have been behind the Italian move to 7.35mm.

      The bullet which the Warren Commission says hit President Kennedy’s head is an odd one. Found in the limousine were the nose and tail of a 6.5 mm bullet, but no centre section. Meanwhile, if you look at the X-ray of JFK’s skull, it is quite easy to see a pattern of small metallic fragments running along the inside of his skull. I find it hard to believe a 6.5 mm Carcano round could have somehow broken into tiny fragments, but only in the middle part of the bullet.

    • Did your dad know the proper Sight Alignment for Carcani is to place the Front Sight tip into the BOTTOM of the Rear Sight V ?

  4. As some of you may know, this rifle gained a very bad reputation in Finland, which in the end reached almost mythical proportions. I recently watched a documentary, where a veteran artilleryman told about his experiences in summer 1944. After a Soviet landing from Lake Ladoga the artillery officers had to improvise a counter-attack, since there was no infantry nearby. The veteran explained that some of the men gathered for the attack had only Carcano (or “Terni” as the Finnish soldiers called them) rifles with the kind of tone in his voice that this fact alone should have doomed the whole operation to failure. In the end the attack managed to delay the Soviet advance, so it could be considered a limited success, but the veteran probably thought that the men could as well have carried bow and arrow and still achieved the same results…

    As to why the M38 Carcano was so disliked by Finnish soldiers, I have found at least the following reasons:

    1. The 200 meter fixed sight was considered too far away, so that overshooting targets at 100 meters was too likely if the shooter did not remember to “hold under”.
    2. The Mannlicher style en bloc clip was totally unfamiliar to Finnish soldiers and they felt that it was less reliable than the stripper clip loading of the Mosin. If you watch Ian’s and Karl’s 2-gun match video, they might have been unto something.
    3. The 7.35mm ammunition, which came from Italy with the rifles, was reportedly of quite variable quality with large dispersion.

    All in all the rifle probably was not as bad as its reputation in Finland suggests, but the story shows again how relatively little things at first sight can pile up and ruin the reputation of something, or someone, for that matter.

    • If the Soviets had attacked in 45, there’s a big difference between the Soviet military by then, than before… I think the “legendary” Finnish resistance, would have been finished personally.

    • Your French aren’t you, are you? What about your Budget cuts, your supposed to be supporting our new carriers? Exactly, we should scrap them.

    • Curiously, Vladimir Grigoryevich Fyodorov (the designer of the Fedorov Avtomat) in his reports on the Russo-Japanese war, observed a diametrically opposed phenomenon.
      In those extreme conditions, the Moisins of the Russian troops tended to quickly become single shooters, cause the magazines were filled with ice and mud. The Steyrs instead kept on being repeaters, cause the passage of the clips kept the action clean.

      • I have never heard that complaint about the Mosin from any later Finnish or Russian source. Getting mud inside the magazine is not easy, but I suppose if it does happen, getting it out would be more difficult.

        The main complaint about the Mosin is that the bolt handles like an agricultural tool in some examples, in other words it requires force and can’t be cycled very fast. Most Finnish soldiers in WW2 were farmers, so perhaps they did not mind that too much… Also, most had no experience with smoother actions like Mausers, so their expectations had not been “spoiled”. The Swedish Mausers did quickly gain a reputation as excellent rifles.

        Much of the bad feelings about the Carcano could have been just old-fashioned prejudice, although probably there were some real issues behind them as well.

      • The only issue officially acknowledged by the Finnish Army was the fixed sights zeroed at 200 meters. Raising to front sight so that the new zero became 150 or 100 meters was done as a quick fix to a an unknown number of rifles. Probably tens of thousands were modified so, but most still remained in original configuration.

        In 1944 there were plans to replace the rear sight with an adjustable one similar to the M/39 rifle, but they were cancelled at the end of war. What happened to the prototypes is not known. Interarms received all the remaining Finnish Carcanos in 1957 in exchange for surplus Stens, so perhaps there is some American with a super-rare ex-Finnish M38 Carcano with an adjustable rear sight?

    • Sounds like the Finns were using the wrong Sight Alignment !
      Proper S/A for Carcani is to place the Front Sight tip into the BOTTOM of the Rear Sight V ! Giving you an ~ +6″ trajectory at 100 meters.

  5. It was 6th floor not 8th…not to matter so much.
    Anybody absorbing a 2000+ fps lead pellet anywhere on their body from their big toe on up will find it decidedly distracting and said pellet is absolutely guaranteed to make the happy recipient give up whatever they’re doing and go elsewhere to do it.
    Also, the talk of of which shirt button impact is on is pertinent…in a way… but the real issue of caliber (e.g. 6.5 vs 7.7 as an example) has to do with the uncooperative nature of opposing forces and their proclivity to hide behind difficult material such as trees, rocks, masonary, light armor plating and such.
    As they say, sandbags may make a decent pillow, but you need a lot of them to make them bulletproof. And, by the way, bulletproof vests…aren’t. Somebody is always coming along with a bigger bullet.

    • And a “bullet-proof” vest won’t save you from the 47mm APHE round that gets fired from a Type 1 Chi-He (the tank’s gun can penetrate 55mm of steel armor at 100 meters of range). Then again, does ANY tank commander order the gunner to fire the main gun at an individual hostile who isn’t sitting behind concrete or vehicle steel!?

      • “does ANY tank commander order the gunner to fire the main gun at an individual hostile who isn’t sitting behind concrete or vehicle steel”
        Various tanks guns during history were able to fire anti-personnel ammunition, for example World War II-era M3 Light Tank might fired Canister M2, which, speaking simply, turn 37 mm gun in giant shotgun, later M48 tanks (90 mm gun) were able to use BEEHIVE ammunition: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beehive_anti-personnel_round
        IIRC, during Korean War Centurion tanks sometime fired canister shot at enemy infantry encircling neighbor tanks.

      • Not if the tank has a co-axial machine gun. They were developed expressly because not all targets deserve or need a main gun round.

      • If the potential yokel is holding an RPG or some form of Bazooka…YOU BET HE WILL FIRE whatever is the fastest weapon to bear!
        And by the way, how does an obscure 47mm abruptly and irrelevantly enter the discussion?

        • Usually the fastest weapon would still be the co-axial MG, and most of the time it would also be the one with best chance to hit the enemy. Miss with the main gun round, and it may not have any effect at all, but it is much more difficult to miss with a burst of the co-axial.

          • Sure, anti-personnel main gun rounds have their uses, and countering an RPG ambush would be one such use. An ambush usually implies a well setup trap with multiple RPG teams engaging the tank simultaneously or in rapid succession, not a single guy with an RPG in the open. For the latter purpose most tank commanders would still order engaging with the co-axial MG. Of course, if the APERS round was already loaded and there would be reason to suspect a larger ambush, firing the main gun would be a viable option.

            It is true that all tanks developed before WW2 did not have a co-axial MG, but it turned out to be so useful that practically all developed during the war did have one. Only the Japanese mediums persisted in not having one (Type 98 & 2 Light and Type 2 “Ho-I” support tanks did).

          • “It is true that all tanks developed before WW2 did not have a co-axial MG”
            False. Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A as produced in 1937 has 37-mm main gun and coax machine gun and coax machine gun.

          • I don’t follow. The Pz III Ausf. A had a co-axial MG, but what was false / not true? As I wrote, some pre-WW2 tanks did not have a coax MG and nobody is denying that. Most notably no Japanese tank prior to the Type 98 Light (1939) had one.

          • @Euroweasel:
            You have written:
            It is true that all tanks developed before WW2 did not have a co-axial MG
            which considered existence of said Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. A, which was developed before WW2, is not true

  6. “KARK-ano” or “Car-CON-o”? Which is the proper Italian?
    Didn’t the Italians sell a lot of these to Japan in the 1930’s? Were they in 6.5 Carcano caliber or 6.5 Arisaka?

    • Emphasis like the latter, something around ‘Car-Khan-Oh’.

      The Carcanos exported to Japan were the Type I, chambered in the Japanese 6.5 rather than the Italian one. I think Ian might’ve done a bit on one a while back; if not him, then the folks at C&Rsenal. There’s one in rough shape on the rack at the local Cabela’s, asking about $450. I’m still considering it.

  7. I have a M38 7.35 and it is a blast. Hornady makes a .300 128Gr bullet, Buffalo arms makes proper head stamped brass and loaded cartridges. They are however expensive. I shot my M38 in a Military Issued/Surplus only “Exhibition match” We shot at 200, 300, 400, 500, 600 and 800 yds. I was doing great until my skill ran out at 400 yds. It was a great day shooting against other military rifles and I can say with certainty that I was running the only Italian out there. I am also “that guy” that occasionally takes my Great Grandfathers Remington 1894 Side by side with hand loaded brass black powder shot shells to some sporting clays matches and deer hunts with my other Great Grandpa’s Standard Arms Model M chambered in 35 Remington (which you also did a video on). Thanks for the great content!!!

  8. I wonder how much the gain twist rifling in these Carcanos helped their ballistics? Without it could it still compare to the 62×39? Maybe since it was not mentioned in the vid it was nominal?

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