Made by the million and issued by the dozen. The service life of the FP-45 “Liberator”

Liberator-left-full

Given the growing fascination with crude 3D printed firearms, it may be worth looking into the original “Liberator” pistol.

During WWII the Joint Psychological Warfare Committee sought a means to arm civilians in occupied territory, sowing panic and tying down more enemy troops.  They were meant to be air dropped by the thousands.  They would serve almost no purpose when captured by the occupiers but could be used for assassination, intimidation, and appropriation by guerrillas.  They should be powerful enough to kill in a single shot, small enough to conceal readily, and enough should be provided to make them essentially disposable.

The resulting single shot, .45 caliber hand gun was made of steel pressings with a smooth bore barrel.  It could be reloaded but not quickly at all.  The entire project was classified and so the new guerrilla gun was titled “Flare-Projector 45″. Manufacturing was geared to provide millions if necessary and used crude but sturdy welding and riveting for assembly.  A contract was signed on May 15th, 1942 and by June 17th the 1,000,000 pieces were completed by the Guide Lamp plant.  Each pistol was packaged with 10 rounds of ammunition and a pictoral instruction sheet using no written language so that anyone, anywhere, could use the firearm.

The original 1,000,000 pieces were to be shipped to British forces, but with the growing Sten production made the pistol less desireable and the order was halved. The other 500,000 pistols remained in the US.  50,000 were picked up by the Allied Intelligence Bureau and fell under MacArthur’s authority.  The remaining 450,000 were taken by the Office of Strategic Services.  Not all would remain in the country.

So where did they go?

England
500,000 were shipped to England.  If any of these were ever dropped or issued the records have not been found.  What became of them is uncertain.

China
The O.S.S. turned over 100,000 pistols to the Sino-American Cooperative Organization which shipped them into India and later into Kunming.  There are sources that quote seeing the pistols in Chinese hands, although some claim most found their way to bandits and brigands.

The Philippines
After China, this seems to be the largest concentration of issued FP-45s.  MacArthur had taken several thousand into active service and we’ll cover those later, but over 40,000 were stored in Australia.  Some of these were carried over for Philippine guerilla use by Australian forces and earned the nickname “Kangaroo Guns” as the natives believed them to have been made down under.  Most seem to have been put to use post war by peace keeping forces or given out as souvenirs.

Guadalcanal, Tulagi, New Caledonia
MacArthur took 8,000 pistols for these territories.  His communications reveal he expected to distribute these to natives in order to help resist any Japanese activities.  If these occured in each territory, and to what extent is unknown.  From interviews it seems small numbers were dropped to friendly troops at odd intervals.  Many were traded or given away and caused confusion due to the lack of any markings or language.  They were often mistaken for crude Japanese pistols.

Greece
The O.S.S. dropped limited numbers of the FP-45 along with agents in Greece during the war.  They may have also followed the O.S.S. into other field operations but these are not as clearly documented.

Australia
More of MacArthur’s reserve in Australia were distributed by the little known Z-Force under the Australian Service Reconnaissance Department.  They were taken as part of a mission to train and arm some 6,000 natives living on Japanese occupied islands north of Australia.

Other
The rough little gun also saw service with the U.S. Army Intelligence Service (G-2) which may account for odd sightings in various parts of Europe.  Exact usage is unknown but would have been in very small quantities.

To learn more about the origins of the pistol and its manufacture come on over to C&Rsenal.


Othais

Othais is practically useless with modern firearms. That’s OK though, because he specializes in Curio and Relic military pieces and has agreed to decorate The Firearm Blog with a little history. He maintains his own site, C&Rsenal, with the help of his friends and the collector community.


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  • DV

    Still looks better than a Hi Point.

  • Yond

    Takes longer to reload than it took to make the damned thing,,,

    • LCON

      Only the HK P11 takes longer. You have to send it back to Germany and have the factory rebuild it to load the 5 barrels.

      • iksnilol

        Why would you buy a gun that you can fire 5 times before having to send it back to the country of origin? Better to rig up your own underwater gun, I am thinking a .410 derringer (rifled barrel to avoid restrictions). With homeloaded dart ammo (steel dart with fins instead of shot).

        • LCON

          Because you’re a navy seal or NATO equivalent, and hyper cavitating ammo had yet to be invented.

          • iksnilol

            But still, Russia made the same thing, only y’know reloadable. How I see it, it is a single use firearm.

  • 2hotel9

    Actually got to fire one of these in the mid ’70s. One of my uncles brought it home from Malaysia after the Malay Uprising. The recoil was nasty, being so light, and only got 1 of 3 shots into the target. And yea, reloading was a pain in the ass!

    • claymore

      Your experience matches mine recoil was “sharp”.

      • 2hotel9

        Yea, we were using new ammo, lighter bullet than USGI issue of the ’40s, so it was not quite as sharp as La Resistance fighters would have felt. Bet they didn’t remember feeling it, though! Adrenalin is your friend.

  • Matt

    I saw a page explaining this in an issue of the DC comic GI Combat in about 1980. Pretty good drawing and description of the weapon, and another drawing of a resistance looking fellow holding one while taking a Mauser away from a dead German soldier. The text explained it was to be used for resistance fighters to get themselves a firearm.

    Matt
    St Paul
    @1077idaho

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

      That was the sole purpose of the Liberator just as you described it.

      • 2hotel9

        Looting the dead is ALWAYS a viable military tactic.

        • Tothe

          It’s quite difficult to loot otherwise.

          • 2hotel9

            Not really. Just ask LA rioters, they looted from the living quite easily. ;)

          • Tothe

            Disarmed California hippies and commies are admittedly easier to loot while alive than, say, armed soldiers, or businessmen in better-armed regions.

          • 2hotel9

            Yep, just ask all those Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese business owners in LA. Their stores did not get looted, hell, some of them did not even close during the R King riots.

  • CaptainSlaughterboard

    Why this thing was mainly sent to England is because this is cannon for gnomes.

  • Jeff Smith

    Have there been any reviews (for lack of a better term) of the liberator pistol in recent history? I’ve read several articles on it, but, to my knowledge, None have actually fired the pistol. It would be really interesting to know the accuracy (or lack there of) and muzzle velocity that the gun was able to produce.

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

      No rifling no accuracy. A simple couple of feet away or a contact shot. Then take the enemies weapons.

    • claymore

      They was a cast later version called the “Deer Gun” Vietnam era or so. If I remember right it was 9mm

    • Sulaco

      From all that I had read up to this point most if not all had never been issued and had been dumped in the sea after the war….never knew so many had actually been issued/dropped…

  • Ben

    I handled one of these at the Royal Armouries Museum in the UK. Solid but definitely cheap. According to the lady doing the presentation the dead rats filled with explosives were a more effective psychological weapon regardless.

    I can’t remember what they said (if anything) about the ones delivered to the UK. I assume they were kept for internal distribution if the Germans managed to invade, probably to be distributed by the “Secret Army”, the Home Guard Auxiliary Units who would have led Britain’s guerrilla efforts following an invasion.

    Following the war I wouldn’t be surprised if they were retained in case of a communist uprising/civil war along the lines of Spain. This was considered to be a realistic possibility at the time.

    • CaptainSlaughterboard

      DEAD RATS FILLED WITH EXPLOSIVES…!?
      Omfg that’s a really dirty bomb.

    • mikee

      Most of the Liberator pistols destined for Europe are at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean as the ship arrying thm was sunk by a U-boat. The ones for distribution in SE Asia in late WWII were either not delivered and those few that were, were discarded as better weaponry was already falling into the hands of the resistance fighters fighting the Japanese.

  • Nicholas Mew

    Still more disturbed by the quality of German Stamped Metal Pistols.

    • wysoft

      wow, that’s awesome. never seen that before.

    • CaptainSlaughterboard

      Hooah! Unbelievably cool trigger group/safety/grip/somewhat everything about lower..
      What is the name of this gun?

  • avconsumer2

    Found one of these among some of my gramps stuff. He was in charge of an ammo dump in New Guinea. They would also apparently load bunches of these along with other necessities into inert (transportation) torpedo’s & launch them onto Japanese controlled shores (islands I assume,) where they knew natives to also be in the vicinity.
    Edit: just noticed the “Australia” section above. Yep! Probably went through him. Crazy times – he was also the only white officer at that dump in charge of nothing but enlisted black men. He also scored a lovely Arisaka Type 99 as well. Must shoot one day. (the 99, not the liberator!!)
    I’m going to shoot myself one day for not getting audio of his war stories.
    He will be 100 next June. Guy is a machine.

    • 2hotel9

      If he is still able do it! Personal accounts, the real memories, things no one wrote down at the time, are what have been lost. Dates and names pale alongside what they did on a Thursday afternoon during a year on some patch of sand and rocks on the other side of the world.

      • avconsumer2

        Yeah… sadly… also a recent stroke victim. Speech is spotty at best. May give it a swing one day soon though.

        • 2hotel9

          Good luck. Hope it works out, and spending time with him is a win anyway.

  • Troy Emge

    Had the displeasure of shooting one of these a year ago. Since you only have one round definitely best used as a contact weapon. It doesn’t have the accuracy for aimed shots in any context other than pressed against something.

    • 2hotel9

      I don’t know about “displeasure”, any day burning propellant is a good day. Definitely not accurate in any way, shape, manner or form, thats for sure. We were shooting at a 4 foot square target board from 10 feet, so 1 out of 3 ain’t too bad.