.30 Carbine Handguns
Good Ideas – Or Just Boom & Blast?
The .30 Carbine is one of those conundrum things. It’s in practical effect — if not in actual fact — a handgun cartridge, actually, a magnum length one. It has the same case length as the .357, .41 and .44 Magnums. But, it has no case rim which would make it work far better in revolvers than it actually does. Yet it was definitely developed as a “short rifle” or carbine cartridge. Many people think with regards to its performance as a carbine round it was no great shakes. But there are mitigating circumstances regarding its military performance — namely full metal jacketed bullets.
Before World War II someone in the American military hierarchy studied Germany’s World War I wound reports and was amazed at how few were caused by .45 caliber projectiles fired from US Model 1911 semi-autos and US Model 1917 revolvers. Therefore began a movement to develop a “short rifle” to replace handguns. Until well into World War II, say about 1943, US soldiers and marines serving as members of crew served weapons teams, communication specialists, NCO’s and officers were issued handguns. The idea was these men were not supposed to fight with small arms, but “just in case” needed a weapon to protect themselves.
Ruger has chambered their Blackhawk single action revolver for .30
Carbine for over 40 years.
The first step was to get Winchester Repeating Arms to develop the cartridge. The ordnance officers wanted it based on the Winchester .32 Self-Loading round but using about a 110-gr. FMJ bullet traveling at about 2,000 fps. That resulted in a minor amount of difficulty because most propellants of the day would not generate the 2,000 fps requested. When Winchester used a new “ball” powder and got the new round to 1,970 fps the government said, “Okay, close enough.”
Next, word was passed around to arms inventors and manufacturers saying the government wanted a “short rifle” using the new .30 cartridge. An array of newly developed firearms were tested. All flunked.
The government told their manufacturers to come back in a few months and try again. Winchester had not submitted a “short rifle” in the first tests and the company was urged privately by government officials to get in the running for the second tests. Winchester did and the rest is history. Their “short rifle” was adopted as US M1 .30 Carbine. Over 6.25 million were produced by no fewer than 10 manufacturers before production ceased in late summer of 1945 when World War II ended.
When the Automag III’s extractor broke, the empty case would
move rearward and bind up with a fresh round at the top of
the magazine. In effect it became a single shot.
Besides the two .30 Carbine handguns, Duke uses his handloads in these three carbines.
From left: standard World War II vintage M1 Carbine, middle is an M1A1 Carbine,
developed specifically for paratroopers and at right is select-fire M2 Carbine.
After the war, American ammunition manufacturers were set up to produce a nifty little .30 caliber cartridge. However, American firearms manufacturers were making no suitable guns for it. Smith & Wesson experimented by making a few .30 Carbine revolvers but pursued the idea no further than prototypes.
In the early 1960’s the DCM (Director of Civilian Marksmanship) was charged by the US Government with releasing 250,000 M1 Carbines to NRA members for the grand sum of $20 each. This put spurs to .30 Carbine popularly, and one result was a niche market for .30 Carbine handguns to accompany those government surplus M1 Carbines.
When embarking on building a World War II firearms collection shortly into the new century, I added M1 .30 Carbines to the mix and began handloading for the round. That interest led me to trying some .30 Carbine handguns. My experiences were not unqualified successes, but I did learn the .30 Carbine has the possibility to be amazingly accurate from handguns, and when fired from handgun barrel lengths is amazingly loud!
The first commercial handgun chambered for .30 Carbine was Ruger’s Blackhawk, so that was the first one I tried. It’s not surprising Ruger put a .30 Carbine revolver on the market. What is surprising is it has remained in Ruger’s catalog for over 40 years! It began on the Old Model Blackhawk and made the transition to the New Model in 1973. The only barrel length offered has been 71/2″ and currently its issue stocks are checkered black hard rubber instead of the wooden types standard for decades. Its weight is 46 ounces.
The overall best performing bullet for .30 Carbine pistols was
the Redding/SAECO #302; a 115-gr. gas check roundnose.
Along the way, I had been dimly aware of a company called AMT which had specialized in making stainless steel autoloading handguns, but did remember they offered a .30 Carbine for a while. I scanned the Internet auction sites until locating an AMT .30 Carbine, whose official name was the Automag III. It came with 63/8″ barrel, 8-round magazine, carbon fiber grips and weighed 43 ounces. Its basic configuration was as a 1911 but with outsize grip necessitated by the .30 Carbine cartridge length.
Problems arose with my Automag III from the beginning. First, its hammer fall was not strong enough to set off mil-spec primers in US military surplus ammunition (headstamped LC71). Next I tried US commercial ammo, which did fire, but shortly into the project its extractor broke. Empty cases would begin to extract but hang up on the next round coming out of the magazine. Also misfires were occurring because the firing pin was not centered on primers. It was off-set so much about 10 percent of the time two strikes were needed to cause ignition.
That’s the bad news. The good news is the Automag III I used is a very accurate pistol. I’m no great shakes of a handgun shot from a sandbag rest but still I was getting groups down to about 11/2″ at 25 yards.
These are some of the tools and components Duke used in
developing .30 Carbine handloads.
Auto Vs. Revolver
Usually revolvers are more trouble free than autoloading handguns. I can’t say the same about my .30 Carbine Blackhawk. It also suffered from misfires about 10 percent of the time, but with an odd difference. When a round did not fire it was difficult to extract. I mean difficult as in the stuck loaded rounds had to be knocked out by whacking the ejector rod button with a weighted rubber hammer!
Here’s the deal. Because the .30 Carbine has no rim, the cartridge case must headspace on the case mouth, same as with 9mm or .45 ACP. However, since this ammunition is to be fired in a revolver, the bullet must be locked into the case. Unrestrained bullets will move forward in the case during recoil. With a rimless case such as this, the only way to crimp a bullet is by the taper crimp method where the case at its mouth is pressed into the side of the bullet.
With this particular Blackhawk this worked at cross purposes with headspacing on the case mouth. With so little of the case mouth resting against the ledge in the chamber, the strike of the hammer pushed the case into the chamber jamming it tightly. That in turn cushioned the hammer blow and resulted in misfires. The rounds that did fire gave very high velocity variations of up to 200 fps in only a 5-shot string.
There was an exception with the Ruger. Cast bullet handloads using the Redding/SAECO bullet #302 fired reliably and accurately. Evidently the linotype bullet was able to be taper crimped but still allow enough case mouth to give secure headspacing. The cast bullet load used 14.5 grs. of Accurate 5744 powder for a velocity of about 1,400 fps from the Ruger’s 71/2″ barrel. Actually that same load shot fairly well in the Automag III and it’s one of my favorites from the M1 Carbine.
So my conclusion is the .30 Carbine in revolvers and pistols can be a troublesome round. But when everything works properly it can be a fine, powerful, small bore “magnum.” Either way though — it’s loud!
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino