Early Semiautomatic Rifles. The bolt actions rifles of the late 19th and early 20th century were excellent military arms. Robust, reliable, and powerful, they can turn in some astounding displays of long range accuracy and kill even the largest game on the planet. They could not, however, provide enough firepower. This was validated by the experiences of all the combatants in the First World War. In fact, during the First World War, Britain, France, Russia, and the United States all experimented with the imperfect Winchester Model 1907 & 1910 semi-automatic rifles. The Winchester 1907 possessed many assault rifle traits, detachable magazines, some models were converted to select fire, It also introduced an intermediate cartridge of sorts, the 351 Winchester Self Loading. The 351 Winchester compares favorably to the much later 5.56 NATO in would ballistics out to 50 meters, beyond this, its performance drops quickly. Originally conceived as a hunting arm, it became the experimental armament of early aircraft. The Winchester 1907 was quickly replaced in the aircraft use by drum or belt machineguns. It did become a favorite of post-World War I law enforcement agencies, the Model 1907 hung on with a few until the early 1970s. The Winchester 1907 is a complex design, very difficult to field strip and clean, it was not a weapon which could be massed produced and issued as a standard rifle or carbine.
Both France and Germany attempted to design and produce semi-automatic rifles in World War I. These efforts were hampered by the use of the full powered rifle cartridges, difficulty in manufacture, and the urgency of the conflict. After the war, many countries experimented with semi-automatic cartridges. Some eventual products of these efforts were the U.S. M1 Garand and Soviet SVT 40.
In 1940 the U. S. Army realized certain soldiers needed a light weight rifle to replace the pistol. Certain t soldiers such as staff officers, mortar men, truck drivers, cooks, etc. were traditionally unarmed or armed with a pistol. The Sub machineguns did not provide a reasonable answer as they nearly as heavy as the M1 Garand Rifle.
The Winchester design was quickly accepted and put into production. Although called the M1 Carbine, the carbine was not a shortened M1 Rifle, but an entirely new design and cartridge. The M1 Carbine, like the Winchester Model 1907, had a detachable magazine and a 30 caliber pistol type cartridge, developed from the 32 Winchester self-loading cartridge.
The M1 Carbine is not an assault rifle, some were converted to select fire 1945 and used extensively during the Korean War.
Sub-machineguns. The sub-machinegun is a class of weapon designed to meet the conditions of trench warfare. Using controllable pistol ammunition, the submachine gun was seen as a trench “broom”. It provided firepower which the bolt action rifle could not. Few submachine guns were used in the First World War, however they were extensively developed after the war and nearly every army deployed significant numbers during the Second World War.
The United States used the Thompson (several models) and M3 “Grease Gun” sub-machineguns in large numbers during the war. Both were nearly as heavy as the M1 rifle. Both the Thompson and M3 Grease Gun provided excellent close range firepower, but beyond 50 yards their power and accuracy greatly diminished. While the Japanese used very few submachine guns, the Germans, Soviets and British used large numbers. However, they all faced range and power limitations inherent in their cartridges.