The REAL Heroes of the M1 Carbine – not “Carbine” Williams

The Hollywood-spawned mythos of the M1 Carbine is that it was created by David Marshall “Carbine” Williams. The reality is far different. In real life, Williams was talented, but short-tempered, stubborn, and unable to work effectively as part of a team – and a cohesive, cooperative team is what the M1 Carbine required.

While Williams was off sulking about how the work was being done wrong, a team of Winchester machinists and engineers including William Roemer and Fred Humiston were actually making it happen.

The most impressive anecdote of the whole story, to me, is from when the solitary Winchester prototype broke its bolt in the middle of the final testing. Fred Humiston was representing Winchester at the trials, and he was told that if he could provide a new bolt within 24 hours the gun could continue the trials – but he could not take the gun off the testing ground. So Humiston went back to the Winchester shop and made a new bolt from memory (no drawings yet existed for the gun) and without being able to test-fit it in the gun. When he returned the next day, his new bolt dropped in perfectly, and the gun went on to win the trials. That is an epic feat of skill, and it is really a shame that he does not get more recognition for it.

29 Comments

      • He was probably allowed to make notes after it broke, too, lol. It is surprising how many random numbers you’ll remember when you have to sneak up on them in machining, though.

  1. “(…)Williams was talented, but short-tempered, stubborn, and unable to work effectively as part of a team(…)”
    This instantly reminded me about Aimo Lahti. If translator which I used translated Asesuunnittelijan ura chapter of Wikipedia query in his language:
    https://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aimo_Lahti
    correctly enough, he shows suddenness, conflicting behavior and sometimes awkward personality. It is attributed to limited amount of formal education he got (BTW: what was education of Williams?). It also states he later (during job travels in Europe) developed inclination for alcoholic beverages. It said that Aimo Lahti himself claimed that has permission to drink from Mannerheim.

    • “he shows suddenness”; probably “abruptness” be would the right word. It means being cheeky, mean-tempered.

      This evaluation of Lahti, resembles someone… when I look into mirror. A.L. was originally armorer; tough job – no wonder if he drank a bit over norm. Finns are arguably of that inclination (vodka anyone?). I heard that one time in past, when in Sweden they saw drunk man, they commented: “look at that Finn” 🙂

  2. Excellent episode! But one minor correction…General Gladeon Barnes was Chief of Ordnance or “The Army’s Mad Scientist” as Nicolas Moran puts it
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gladeon_M._Barnes
    LTC Rene Studler was Chief of the Small Arms Division
    https://goordnance.army.mil/hof/2010/2010/studler.html
    “n 1935, Studler returned to OCO to serve again as Assistant Small Arms Officer in the Small Arms Division. While there he applied for a three-month leave of absence to visit European small arms and small-arms ammunition manufacturing facilities. His resulting report so impressed his superiors that Studler was assigned in 1936 as Assistant Military Attaché at the US Embassy in London to continue his reporting. Proficient in five European languages, Studler had carte blanche to roam throughout Europe gathering technical intelligence. Visiting factories and military facilities, he filed 373 reports on everything from small arms to tanks to aircraft. (Note – Studler was born to a wealthy family and married a wealthy woman, the story I heard was that he paid for his travels out of his own pocket as the Army’s budget couldn’t cover it)

    As important as Studler’s work in technical intelligence was his expertise in small arms was even more in demand, and in 1940 he was recalled from Europe to again serve in the Small Arms Division in the Office of the Chief of Ordnance, this time as Chief. He held this position for the next 13 years, playing a vital role in developing ground and aircraft-mounted weapons and accessories, to include the M-1 helmet, .30 and .50 caliber armor-piercing incendiary ammunition, the M3 aircraft machine gun, the M3 submachine gun, the M1 and M2 carbines, the 2.36 inch and 3.5 inch rocket launchers, and the 57mm, 75mm, and 105mm recoilless rifles. Studler retired in 1953 after 36 years of distinguished service. He died in August 1980.”

    “According to Winchester manager Edwin Pugsley, at the insistence of Col Rene Studler the M1 carbine was based on the Winchester M2 Browning rifle prototype”

  3. If you want the official story of the Ordnance Corps in WWII via free downloads

    “A description of how the War Department and private industry manufactured huge quantities of munitions and how the Field Service stored, catalogued, maintained, and distributed those munitions to the ports of embarkation.”

    THE ORDNANCE DEPARTMENT: PLANNING MUNITIONS FOR WAR https://history.army.mil/html/books/010/10-9/index.html

    THE ORDNANCE DEPARTMENT: PROCUREMENT AND SUPPLY https://history.army.mil/html/books/010/10-10/index.html

    For the entire catalog of CMH Publications, almost all free downloads
    https://history.army.mil/catalog/browse/title.html

    THE ORDNANCE DEPARTMENT: ON BEACHHEAD AND BATTLEFRONT https://history.army.mil/html/books/010/10-11/index.html

  4. Can highly recommend Larry Ruth’s work on the carbine. He has spent decades in research and continues to unearth interesting tidbits of the M-1 story to this day. And he’s a fine gentleman to pass the time with also.

  5. So, basicly, we can draw parallels, with “Carbine” Williams it is very much similar, if not identic story as MTK “tank mechanic” being the sole designer of AK.

    • My understanding has it that ol’ Tokarev was mighty close to a nervous break down what with the various problems with the SVT-38… Enter his nameless design team to put together the SVT-40!

  6. “Need taught him wit…”
    When defective machine guns from Czechoslovakia were brought to Israel in 1947, the gunsmith Jacob Shnitman (possibly the only one pros gunsmith in the country at that time) took a muzzle device from a one working machine gun and went with him to a blacksmith in a neighboring kibbutz.
    The blacksmith had (possibly also the only one in the country) a lathe, but there were absolutely no measuring tools. And everything he did, including threading, he did “by eye.”
    All new parts were successfully installed and machine guns began to work.

    • Again, a nice to hear legend, but hard to believe if one is a rational person, that machine shop have no measuring tools whatsoever.

      • It wasn’t a machine shop, it was a village blacksmith shop. Those may or may not have proper measuring tools or machine tools. This one apparently had a lathe, but measuring tools were probably home made improvisation.

    • Oh yeah, I get it, they had a lathe, but actually it was a bow-lathe!
      And turning tools were made out of centuries old animal dung and piss infused plows, all which gave steel mysterious superior hardening properties, just like Jim Bowies first “meteorite” knife.

      And yes, to told you the truth, blacksmith hero was actually illiterate, possibly Forrest Gump type persona – he did not even know the concept of numbers, so measuring tools would do him no good.

      Such is the beauty of oral tradition – and this is just in 70 years !

      • Henryk Strąpoć was a village blacksmith, build his smg with simple hand tools.

        Choroszman family(with their cooperatives) set guerilla gunsmith shop in dugout hidden in woods.
        Their most sophisticated tool was lathe – adapted to hand drive…
        Once they had opportunity to take dimensions from factory made smg, but they didn’t take paper/pencil with them.
        Instead they used knife and birch branches.

  7. “It wasn’t a machine shop, it was a village blacksmith shop”(C)

    Exactly.
    Repair and manufacturing of plows and other farm equipment. Perhaps, sometimes, some crushers or threshers.

    But for those who get food from the refrigerator, and they saw the lathe only in the pictures, this can really seem like a miracle from the legend. LOL

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