Submachine gun

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Submachine guns ( MP or MPi ) are fully automatic handguns for firing pistol ammunition . Submachine guns are used to target close range targets. The effective firing range does not usually reach more than 200 m. Submachine guns used to be used primarily to increase the firepower of infantry units in close combat. Today the spectrum of military operations has shifted significantly to self-protection. In addition, submachine guns are also used by anti-terrorism and police forces. The Kalashnikov , which fires medium cartridges, was called a submachine gun in the terminology of many states of the former Warsaw Treaty, but according to today's definition, this combination of weapon and ammunition is counted as a machine carbine.

Names and subdivisions

In both German and international parlance, a number of different expressions are in use that refer to weapons, which are summarized here under the term submachine gun. These different names arose partly from the historical developments of this type of weapon, partly also as promotional or propagandistic names.

Particularly in the UK it originally referred to the submachine gun as a machine carbine (German Maschinenkarabiner ). This name is now synonymous with the assault rifle . During the Second World War , the term submachine gun , which is common in the United States of America and which classifies the submachine gun as an automatic weapon and, in terms of its performance, as being below the machine gun , prevailed in the English-speaking world . Partly, e.g. B. initially the assault rifle 44 , as well as the submachine gun Kalashnikov in the NVA , machine or rapid-fire carbines are also called submachine guns. In addition, rapid-fire rifles with a shortened barrel are often referred to as submachine guns, even though they fire more powerful cartridges; so z. B. the HK53 .

With the introduction of rapid-fire rifles, especially those with weaker medium cartridges, the military use of submachine guns shifted from focus weapons to self-defense weapons. So they were mainly carried by guides, detectors, vehicle and weapon operators, who usually did not have to fight fire beyond close range. The high point of this development so far are so-called Personal Defense Weapons (PDW). These are very compact weapons that are characterized by the use of a new type of ammunition. This became necessary because the spread of protective vests severely restricted the effectiveness of normal pistol ammunition.

The so-called miniature submachine guns represent a forerunner of this development . These are particularly compact submachine guns, the dimensions of which are more similar to the self-loading pistols. These weapons are designed in such a way that they can be shot with one hand at single fire - like a pistol. They often have a shoulder rest for delivering continuous fire. An early representative of this genus was the Czechoslovakian submachine gun Scorpion .

In contrast to this, rapid or in-line fire pistols are structurally modified self-loading pistols. Originally developed as semi-automatic weapons for one-handed operation, they are able to fire continuous fire by changing the trigger . Many of these weapons have the option of a shoulder stock to mount.

History and commitment

First World War

Villar-Perosa M15 from 1916
Miner MP 18.1

At the beginning of the First World War , multi-loading rifles predominated as infantry weapons. The rate of fire was low and was usually 10 to 20 rounds per minute, and the long weapons were relatively unwieldy. Some of the crews of the still unarmed aircraft were provisionally armed with pistols, rifles and shotguns. A small number of machine guns were grouped together in their own units and, because of their water cooling and heavy mounts, only limited mobility. As a result, they were often unable to follow the attacks of the infantry, so that their fire protection was often no longer guaranteed even at shallow attack depths. In the close range of less than 300 m combat distance, which developed as the main field of application of the infantry in modern warfare, they could only provide limited support.

First attempts to increase the firepower of the infantry within close range included the increased allocation of pistols, e.g. Sometimes also with enlarged magazines and shoulder rests such as the Mauser C96 or the Pistole 08 , as well as the use of larger magazines in the multi-loading rifles. The machine guns were initially given lighter auxiliary mounts with a larger lateral swivel range; special light machine guns were increasingly introduced in large quantities. Even so, these weapons remained too unwieldy for hand-to-hand combat in trench warfare positions . The solution to this problem, initially understood as a temporary solution, was to provide an automatic weapon which had a slightly longer barrel and a longer line of sight than pistols, but which fired the weak pistol ammunition.

The first fully automatic weapon for pistol ammunition was developed by Bethel Abiel Revelli . The two-barrel weapon looked similar to a machine gun and was designed for use in aircraft. It was aimed and fired with a spade handle, and ammunition was fed to each of the two barrels from above from a rod magazine with a 25 or 50 round capacity. The ammunition was introduced into the fixed barrels via a delayed mass lock. The delay was achieved by rotating the shutter. With the Italian 9 mm Glisenti cartridge, which is slightly weaker than the 9 mm Parabellum that has become the standard today, the weapon achieved a theoretical rate of fire of 1500 rounds / min. However, it quickly became apparent that the weapon was not powerful enough for aerial combat, and the introduction of the British Lewis MG, with its powerful rifle ammunition, put a quick end to the submachine gun in aerial warfare.

Revelli sold the patents of April 8, 1914 to the Villar-Perosa company , under whose name the weapon became known. Some time later it was also built by Fiat as the Fiat Model 15 and used by the Italian infantry. With a bipod and a carrying device, the weapon could be shot lying down as well as kneeling and standing, and there was also a mounting device for attaching it to bicycles. Although the weapon offered exceptional advantages due to its low weight and high rate of fire, it was retired after a short time. Aiming and shooting was too complicated, too much wear and tear, and too complex to maintain for military service.

In 1917 the German armed forces were looking for a light and fast firing weapon. Initially, Luger and Mauser pistols with extended barrels, larger magazines and attachable shoulder rests were tested. In October 1917, the Austrian troops captured a number of Villar Perosa submachine guns at the Battle of Caporetto and sent them to Germany for investigation. As a result, Theodor Bergmann (1850–1931) developed the MP18 submachine gun in Suhl . The military leadership wanted high-performance ammunition for the weapon; but since the industry was not able to offer a suitable and stronger ammunition, the 9 mm Parabellum was used. This had the advantage that a simple ground lock and the screw magazines of the 08 pistol could be used. The military planned to assign a group of six machine pistol shooters to each infantry company. The operational plans were still very similar to those of the light machine guns: each submachine gun operator was assigned a helper with additional ammunition (2384 cartridges in total) and spare parts. In particular, they were supposed to force the enemy out of motion into cover during the assault on the enemy trench by fire, for which the overweight MG 08/15 were not to be used. This weapon, also known as the Grabenfeger , gained such a reputation in its short period of use that Germany was forbidden in the Treaty of Versailles to introduce submachine guns to the Reichswehr at the end of the war . Only the police were allowed to have one machine gun for every 20 men.

Between the world wars

After the end of the First World War, the submachine gun had to assert itself against the views of the conservative military, who saw in it a weakening of the infantry firepower because of its inefficient ammunition and rejected the submachine gun as a 'police weapon'. Partly responsible for this was a failed operational concept, which saw the submachine gun as a support weapon similar to light machine guns. Sometimes there was hope of holding down the enemy in an assault by introducing semi-automatic rifles. In Germany in the 1930s, the military took up the idea of ​​a fully automatic rifle with a short cartridge. The technical difficulties in the construction of such weapons, especially because of the powerful cartridges, prevented most armies from being rearmamented until the Second World War . The armies of smaller states pioneered the introduction of submachine guns. Only the experiences of the Chaco War (1932–1935) and the Spanish Civil War brought a turning point . In 1935, war participant Wim Brandt stated in the military weekly paper : “The first mass appearance of the submachine gun was extremely important for the fencing style of the infantry. In conjunction with the machine guns and in view of the low effectiveness of the light artillery and mortars, the firepower of the gunner in position becomes practically insurmountable. In the entire war there was hardly a single frontal attack. "

However, it was only in Germany before the outbreak of war that a submachine gun was introduced on a larger scale from among the great powers. For the Western Allies it was only the experiences of the Western campaign of 1940 that became decisive. France failed to introduce a submachine gun and the Red Army only stepped up its efforts to introduce submachine guns after the experience of the winter war against Finland.

The technical advancement of the submachine gun in the interwar period was marked by contradicting demands of the military and police users. In retrospect, it can be stated that with the unlocked ground lock of the Bergmann submachine gun , an optimal construction principle for military use was found as early as 1918 in terms of failure safety and manufacturing effort.

Thompson model from 1921 here with a 100-round drum magazine

The Thompson submachine gun , developed from 1917 onwards , came too late for use in the First World War. It was not until 1921 that the Colt company produced a series of 15,000 pieces. First known as a gangster weapon - especially in Chicago - it was quickly introduced by the law enforcement authorities. The Thompson submachine gun was more elaborately built than the MP18. You could choose between single and continuous fire; the weapon had a delayed mass lock ; a muzzle brake (Cutt's Compensator) offered as an option prevented the barrel from wandering too far from the target while shooting; there were two pistol grips for two-handed shooting and a detachable shoulder rest. The gun was sold for the then very high price of 200 US dollars, which was justified not only by the complex production of the first series, but also by the fact that no other functional submachine gun was available on the world market until 1928. Due to simpler manufacturing methods, simplification of the locking system and the high sales in World War II, the price of the weapon later fell to around 50 US dollars. Nevertheless, production was stopped and the Thompson was replaced by the much cheaper M3 Grease Gun during the war .

The submachine guns, which the Hungarian designer Pal Király designed for the Swiss SIG in 1935, were also insignificant from a military point of view, but technically interesting . The machine guns MKMO ( M achines k arabiner, M ilitär, case ejection: o ben) and (MKPO M achines k arabiner, P olizei, case ejection: o ben) corresponded to the military demand for more powerful ammunition; in this case the Mauser 9 × 25 mm pistol cartridge with a muzzle energy that is twice as high as that of the Parabellum cartridge. This made a complicated, delayed and two-part mass seal necessary.

In Germany, Hugo Schmeisser received the production rights for the MP18-1. This was now produced at Haenel in Suhl . In this context, weapons were also further developed. The result was the Schmeisser 28-2, which, bypassing the Versailles contract, was produced by Pieper in Herstal, Belgium, for the world market. It was offered in 9 mm Para, 7.63 mm and 9 mm Mauser. The weapon was most widely used in Belgium and France as the Mitraillette Model 34. Bergmann also developed the MP18 further. This resulted in the models 34 and 35 with a loading lever that could be operated like a bolt handle. Produced by Schultz & Larsen in Sweden, it was a bit more complicated and expensive than the original model, but had some technical advantages and this version was introduced to the Swedish Army as Model 39. Based on the MP 20, a weapon designed by Louis Stange, an engineer from Rheinmetall , the Solothurn weapons factory created the MP S1-100, in which the breech block was not tubular but could be opened at the back. From 1935 to 1940 it was also produced under the name Maschinenpistole 34 (ö) in the Austrian Steyr works . Another German submachine gun, the Erma EMP 9 mm, was developed by Heinrich Vollmer and produced by the Erfurter Maschinenfabrik (Erma). It was also set up for single fire, had, like the Thompson, a front pistol grip and a closing spring that was stabilized by means of a telescopic tube. Weapons of this type were used in the Spanish Civil War.

The last German pre-war submachine gun was the MP 38 . For the first time, it bears all the characteristics of a submachine gun developed for mass production for military use: simple production from sheet metal and plastic parts and a primitive mode of operation, as well as a folding shoulder rest for use by vehicle crews. This model was later followed by the British Sten Gun , the American M3 and the Soviet PPS-43 .

Second World War

Soldiers of the Red Army in 1941, 3rd from right with submachine gun PPSch-41

After the infantry no longer fought in dense rifle lines, but in light packs of rifles , began to use natural and artificial cover and was increasingly supported by heavy infantry weapons and artillery, the high firing range of the rifle lost its importance as early as the First World War . For the most part, infantry firefights took place at distances below 200 m, within which the submachine gun proved to be a superior weapon. If more distant targets could not be left to heavy infantry weapons, the use of light machine guns offered better prospects of success than massed rifle fire. In this sense, z. In some cases, as early as the 1920s, the armament of the infantry with submachine guns was required.

As already seen, it was a long way from such a radical rearmament in all armies at the beginning of the war. As part of its scheduled equipment, the Wehrmacht was the only army at the beginning of the war that provided submachine guns with a scope of one submachine gun per rifle group of 10 men. The Red Army indeed planned after the experience of the Winter War equipping the infantry with two machine guns per group, however, could actually equip them on average at most every other group with a submachine gun beginning of the war because of the slow production. Later divisions again only provided for one submachine gun per group; a standard that was also adopted by the British Army. Until late in the war, the US Army refrained from the scheduled allocation of submachine guns, but did use them in large numbers when not planned.

The actual equipment with submachine guns often deviated from these planning specifications in terms of both number and distribution. In particular, depending on availability and their orders, associations were equipped with additional submachine guns or existing submachine guns were redistributed within the units in order to e.g. B. to give shock groups or reserves a higher firepower in close combat.

The introduction of submachine guns influenced the structure of the Red Army in a special way. Immediately after the start of the war, entire units began to be equipped exclusively with submachine guns. The rifle regiments received one or two submachine gun companies as a reserve for the regimental commanders. The accompanying battalions of the tank brigades were also mainly armed with submachine guns. Towards the end of the war, the production of submachine guns in the Soviet Union reached such a level that about half of the shooters could be equipped with submachine guns, or within normal rifle companies, entire platoons were equipped with submachine guns.

After the Second World War

Comparison of simple ground lock and telescopic lock. The telescopic lock allows a significantly shorter length of the weapon housing, despite the Uzi’s barrel being 2 cm longer.

With the introduction of rapid-fire rifles with short or medium cartridges, it was technically possible after the Second World War to combine the requirement for fire fighting in bursts of fire at close range with the fight against targets further away. The tasks of infantry combat reserved for the individual shooter could thus be fulfilled by a single weapon. In addition, this ammunition had a better effect on the target than the pistol ammunition of the submachine guns. The latter were therefore increasingly pushed into the role of self-defense weapons. Small dimensions and low weight thus became even more important.

Technically, the simple unlocked mass lock had proven to be superior in World War II. However, the product of the mass and thus the size of the breech and its spring deflection were predetermined by the load of the pistol ammunition and thus, apart from the barrel length, there were limits to the reduction in the length of the weapon. In order to achieve a shorter weapon, the Czechoslovakian designer Jaroslav Holeček developed the telescopic lock in 1947. The bolt partially encompassed the barrel and could thus be shorter and heavier without endangering functional reliability. This construction principle, which apart from the shape of the lock was a simple mass lock, was used for the first time in the Czechoslovakian Samopal vz. 48 implemented as standard. The Uzi submachine gun, which is widely used in the West, uses the same locking principle .

In contrast, the HK MP5 submachine gun was widely used by police groups . The requirements for precision outweigh those for simple mass production, so that a roller lock derived from the HK G3 rapid-fire rifle is used. Pistol ammunition is preferred precisely because of its relatively low penetration rate, as it minimizes the risk to bystanders.


Side view of the Belgian FN P90

Until the end of the 20th century, the new type of weapon, the assault rifle, restricted the use of the submachine gun in the military to vehicle crews who had no space for bulky rifles, or to special units, which could use them more easily due to the lower muzzle velocity. But even at the short operational distances to be expected in these missions, bullet-resistant vests made of increasingly lighter and more resistant materials were too great an obstacle.

The so-called Personal Defense Weapon (PDW) was intended to remedy this by combining the compactness of the submachine gun with the penetration power of calibers used in assault rifles. As early as 1990, only 4 years after the US Army came up with the concept in 1986 , Fabrique Nationale presented the first real PDW: the FN P90 solved the problem of ineffectiveness compared to protective clothing by using a completely new cartridge. Only 5.7 × 28 mm in size, it exceeded the desired requirements and still weighed only half the old 9 × 19 mm ammunition . Even Heckler & Koch tried with the HK MP5K-PDW 1991 and the HK PDW play along in 1999 in the race for a new NATO standard.

This standard has not yet been established (as of 2015), but the PDW concept has established itself and is being taken up by many weapon manufacturers. In contrast to classic submachine guns, all PDWs have in common that they are largely made of modern, lightweight plastics and use a new type of cartridge, be it a completely new caliber such as 6 × 35 mm , or a proven format with a new charge, such as the 9 × 19 mm 7N31 .


Lock systems

MP5 from Heckler & Koch

The first submachine guns were self-firing recoil loaders with a mass-spring lock . This design principle is still widespread today, especially for military weapons. Weapons of this type can be designed so easily that they were even made in plumbing by the Resistance during World War II . For mass production, there is a low manufacturing cost and thus the possibility of achieving high quantities. In the case of firing weapons, in which the breech is caught by the trigger group in the rear position and only snaps forward when the trigger is actuated, feeding and firing a cartridge, the hammer and firing pin can also be dispensed with. Another advantage is the ventilation of the barrel and thus its faster cooling, which, however, only plays a subordinate role with submachine guns because of the weak ammunition and the limited practical firing sequence compared to machine guns. The precision of such a locking system is poor for various reasons, since a large mass is moved between the cartridge being withdrawn and fired, which leads to shifting of the breakpoint . The generally rather poor ability of soldiers to hit the target in combat and their use in bursts of fire make these disadvantages secondary in military use. Military and police special forces, however, prefer more precise weapons. That is why shooting locking systems such as the movably supported roller lock of the MP5 are often used here.

Submachine guns are sometimes also designed as gas pressure chargers . One example is the HK MP7 , a shooting gas pressure loader with a rotating head lock .



Many submachine guns have a trigger group and pistol grip base that houses the barrel, slide, and magazine. A shoulder rest is often available on the weapons and can be folded down, pulled out or folded. Shoulder rests are made of metal or a combination of metal and plastic, in early weapons there are also rifle-like shoulder rests and fore-ends made of wood.

The weapons usually have a simple fixed sight , or folding sights with two or three sight distances, more rarely also adjustable drum or curve sights. Sights with a rear sight and front sight are the rule , diopter sights are less common. Especially early submachine guns had z. T. Sight ranges up to 1000 m, which far exceeded the effective range. Optical aiming devices can also be placed on modern submachine guns. Because of their short overall length, submachine guns often have a short line of sight , which has a negative impact on accuracy.

For better handling, many submachine guns have a second pistol grip on the fore-end. In the case of submachine guns with a telescopic lock, the magazine is often taken up by the (rear) handle.


The magazines usually have a capacity between 20 and 40 rounds, as they are handy, fail-safe and easy to manufacture. However, there are also magazines that have a larger capacity. At the beginning of the Second World War, drum magazines that could hold up to 71 cartridges were common, while the MP18 of the First World War used a worm magazine originally used for self-loading pistols. Submachine guns with a plate magazine are rare . Their capacity is up to 180 rounds, but then in caliber .22 lfB .

While bar or curve magazines are used from below in most submachine guns today, early models such as the German MP18 and its later variants, the British Lanchester , the subsequent Sten Gun , and the MP 34 (ö) had magazines attached to the side. Magazines protruding far to the side are a hindrance and often get caught on objects, they can be damaged and lose their functionality. On the other hand, magazines inserted from below mean that the shooter has to straighten himself up far in the prone position and thus offers a larger target. In the modern FN-P90 submachine gun, the 50-round magazine is inserted into the weapon above the barrel, parallel to it. Thus the magazine does not protrude from the weapon and is protected, but requires a more complicated feed mechanism.


Most submachine guns fire common pistol calibres; generally the same as those used by the self-loading pistol introduced in the respective army. The 9 × 19 mm caliber is predominant. Weapons in 7.65 × 17 mm , .45 ACP or 10 mm auto are also common . In the Soviet Union, the 7.62 × 25 mm TT cartridge, introduced there as standard pistol ammunition, was used. It has a significantly higher muzzle velocity, which has a positive effect on the impact, but at the price of a lighter and therefore less effective projectile. Small caliber submachine guns in .22 lfB are less common .

The newer Personal Defense Weapons fire special ammunition - e.g. B. the caliber 4.6 × 30 mm of the HK MP7, which is specially designed for penetrating body armor and ensures its effect in the target by deformation or overturning. The Belgian FN P90 is a hybrid between a personal defense weapon and an assault rifle. On the one hand it should represent a compact weapon in house-to-house combat, on the other hand it should also be able to fight targets up to 200 m away. The weapon was baptized by fire in 1997 when the hostage situation ended in the Japanese Embassy in Lima , where it was used as a submachine gun.

Legal situation


In Germany, private individuals are prohibited from owning fully automatic weapons.

All submachine guns are designated as weapons of war that were not imported into a military force before September 2, 1945 (signing of the surrender of Japan ). Possession or trade in weapons of war is punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years.


In Austria , submachine guns fall into category A - "War Material" (Section 18 WaffG in conjunction with Section 2 War Material Act in conjunction with Section 1 War Material Ordinance) and may only be acquired and carried with a special permit.


In Switzerland, according to the Weapons Act, Article 5 , submachine guns fall under the term serial firearms, the acquisition and possession of which is prohibited. This also applies to weapons that have been converted into semi-automatic weapons. In addition, the law prohibits shooting with serial firearms. In justified individual cases, e.g. B. issue special permits for collectors. These permits contain regulations that can be checked regularly by the cantonal authorities. So are u. a. Keep the breech and weapon separate and protected from access by third parties.


  • Frederic WA Hobart: The submachine gun. The story of a fully automatic weapon . Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart 1974, ISBN 3-87943-324-0 .
  • Ian Hogg : submachine guns . Translated into German and edited by Manfred R. Rosenberger. Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-613-02473-X , ( weapons and device 12).
  • VISIER-Special 40 submachine guns . 1st edition. VS Medien, ISBN 978-3-9809243-8-2 .

Web links

Commons : submachine gun  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: submachine gun  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Günter Wollert, Reiner Lidschun: infantry weapons yesterday . (1918-1945). In: Illustrated encyclopedia of infantry weapons from around the world . 3. Edition. tape 1 + 2 . Brandenburgisches Verlagshaus, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-89488-036-8 , technology, p. 23-38 .
  2. a b W.HB Smith, Small Arms of the World - a basic manual of small arms , The Stackpole Company, Harrisburg, Pa, USA, pp 149, SBN8117-1566-3.
  3. ^ WHB Smith, Small Arms of the World - a basic manual of small arms , The Stackpole Company, Harrisburg, Pa., USA, pp. 149-150, SBN8117-1566-3
  4. ^ WHB Smith: Small Arms of the World - a basic manual of small arms . The Stackpole Company, Harrisburg, pp. 150-151, SBN8117-1566-3.
  5. Jaroslav Lugs: Small arms . Systematic overview of handguns and their history , Volume 1, Berlin undated, p. 375 f.
  6. Wim Brandt, The most important teachings of the Chaco War, in: Militär-Wochenblatt 119 (1934/35), Issue 35 (March 18, 1935), Sp. 1379–82.
  7. Günter Wollert, Reiner Lidschun, Wilfried Copenhagen: small arms . (1945-1985). In: Illustrated encyclopedia of rifles from around the world . 5th edition. tape 1 . Brandenburgisches Verlagshaus, Berlin 1988, ISBN 3-89488-057-0 , technology, p. 26 .
  8. ^ WHB Smith, Small Arms of the World - a basic manual of small arms , The Stackpole Company, Harrisburg, Pa., USA, p. 152, SBN8117-1566-3
  9. Günter Wollert, Reiner Lidschun, Wilfried Copenhagen: small arms . (1945-1985). In: Illustrated encyclopedia of rifles from around the world . 5th edition. tape 2 . Brandenburgisches Verlagshaus, Berlin 1988, ISBN 3-89488-057-0 , weapons, p. 392-396 .
  10. Eike Mideldorf, Tactics in the Russian Campaign, Berlin 2nd ed. 1957, p. 12.
  11. cf. Gary Kennett, Bayonet Strength. Battalion Organization during the Second World War ( Memento from July 1, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) . Steven J. Zaloga, Leland S. Ness, Red Army Handbook 1939-1945 , Stroud 2003, pp. 5 ff.
  12. cf. Steven J. Zaloga, Leland S. Ness, Red Army Handbook 1939-1945 , Stroud 2003, p. 15 ff.
  13. Weapons Act Annex 2 (to Section 2 Paragraphs 2 to 4) Weapons List, Section 1 (Prohibited Weapons), (Fully automatic machines)
  14. War Weapons Control Act Annex (to Section 1 Paragraph 1) War Weapons List