This study identifies for the first time, the hybrid structure of the white layer in high carbon steel and describes its formation mechanism and properties. The so-called ‘white layer’ in steel forms during high strain rate deformation and appears featureless under optical microscopy. While many researchers have investigated the formation of the white layer, there has been no definitive study, nor is there sufficient evidence to fully explain the formation, structure and properties of the layer. In this study, the formation, morphology and mechanical properties of the white layer was determined following impact testing, using a combination of optical and SE- microscopy, HR-EBSD, TKD and TEM as well as nano-indentation hardness measurements and FE modelling. The phase transformation and recrystallization within and near the white layer was also investigated. The microstructure of the steel in the white layer consisted of nano-sized grains of martensite. A very thin layer of austenite with nano sized grains was identified within the white layer by HR-EBSD techniques, the presence of which is attributed to a thermally-induced reverse phase transformation. Overall, the combination of phase transformations, strain hardening and grain refinement led to a hybrid structure and an increase in hardness of the white layer.