A Short (Stroke) History of Tappet Operation, Part III: The M1 Carbine Cometh

    When we left David Marshall Williams and his tappet gas mechanism, Winchester had decided to entrust design of their entry into the US Carbine trials to a team headed by William C. Roemer and Fred Humeston, with Williams sidelined into developing his own alternative weapon. Edwin Pugsley, Winchester’s Chief of Engineering, and in many respect Williams’ handler, had submitted the first carbine prototype Aberdeen in August of ’41. Upon his return, he added Williams to the carbine design team to finish the design before the deadline. After a three-day absence, he returned to find that Williams had threatened to shoot Humeston, whom he believed to be stealing his tappet style gas system. This sort of behavior was not unusual for Williams, who had until that point demonstrated poor impulse control and a vindictive attitude. Pugsley removed Williams from the design team, and directed him to develop his own design. Williams would go on to troubleshoot the second Winchester carbine before the final round of US Carbine trials, but otherwise would be “hands off”.



    Winchester’s second prototype, arguably the ‘first M1’. Image source: uscarbines.com.

    Winchester’s 2nd prototype would be adopted on 30 Sep 1941 as the Carbine Caliber .30, M1. Although Williams is named as the inventor of the mechanism used in the M1, he did not receive royalties. Unlike Kalashnikov, however, Williams absolutely compensated for his work. From the US Carbines website:

    Throughout the end of 1941 and into 1942 Western Cartridge Co. (Winchester) negotiated with the Ordnance Department for the design of the M1 Carbine. In February 1942 Ordnance proposed a one time lump sum royalty payment of $886,000 in exchange for a royalty free production license. On 19 Mar 1942 Williams entered into another agreement with Winchester, accepting 26.411 percent of this lump sum ($234,100.46 – equivalent to $3,352,767.18 in 2013 – over and above his salary) in lieu of royalty payments. Winchester signed the agreement with Ordnance on 20 Mar 1942 [War Baby, Volume I, by Larry Ruth; Carbine, The Story of David Marshall Williams, by Ross Beard Jr, page 265].

    Williams would continue his work on both his carbine as well as the G30 full-caliber rifle, which was being considered as a Browning Automatic Rifle replacement. By this time, the automatic rifle variant of the G30 was being called the “Winchester Automatic Rifle” (somewhat humorously abbreviated as WAR), and was being seriously considered for adoption by Ordnance. Unfortunately for Winchester, and many other small arms projects during this period, the war ended before it could be adopted.


    The automatic rifle version of the Winchester G30, called the “Winchester Automatic Rifle” or WAR. Image source: uscarbines.com.


    Williams’ carbine would be finished by late ’41, at which point the Winchester team’s carbine had already been selected. He would continue working on it until the end of the war.


    The Williams carbine, virtually a scaled down G30. Image source: uscarbines.com.


    In addition to these two rifles, Williams also developed a .50 caliber selfloading rifle – echoing in reverse the Soviet PTRS-41 of the same period, which would later be scaled down to create the SKS rifle. Based on the G30 and WAR, the sole remaining prototype remains to this day in the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum in Cody, Wyoming.


    The Williams .50 caliber rifle. Given the caliber and the effective armor available on tanks of the period, it’s reasonable to consider this weapon analogous to the much later Barrett weapons. Image source: uscarbines.com.


    Continued in Part IV: Post-War Tappets.

    Nathaniel F

    Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. He can be reached via email at [email protected]