Odd Guns: The M50 Reising Submachinegun

IMG_3860

Ah the Reising. If you are like me and constantly check NFA classifieds like Sturmgewehr and Subguns, then you definitely know that the price of the Reising is perhaps its most alluring feature. Deemed a “poor man’s Thompson” by most, the Reising is known but to a few gun enthusiasts and small arms aficionados for a multitude of reasons, albeit the gun is known above all else for one thing: sucking.

When the United States Marines fought the Japanese on the island of Guadalcanal, some were armed with M50 Reisings, and the gun entered service because it was available and could be produced quickly and cheaply ($50 compared to $200 for a Thompson) and the gun was very light for its day. The M50 is also reasonably accurate which can be attributed to its closed bolt operation (closed bolt submachineguns were a rarity until their proliferation in the 1970s and 80s). I tried to do some research, but I could not find a closed bolt SMG that predated the M50 Reising, but I hope a reader posts an earlier design below.

Reisings were issued with 12 or 20 round box magazines and had a high cyclic rate for what they are. The bolt actually locks unlike a blowback SMG too, allowing for a lighter yet faster firing gun. The U.S. Marines adopted the M50 in 1940 and most were issued to officers and NCOs (the M1 Carbine not yet available).

The Reising got its first taste of combat when 11,000 men from the 1st Marine Division landed on Guadalcanal. M50s and the folding stock equipped M55s saw action with Marine Raiders and paratroopers but legend has it that the Reising’s action was so unreliable in the sand and mud, that Lieutenant Colonel Merritt A. Edson (Commander, 1st Marine Raider Battalion) ordered that Reisings be tossed into one of Guadalcanal’s many rivers and had his troops instead use bolt-action Springfield 1903 rifles.The Reising’s complexity and sensitivity made it a popular choice for law enforcement however, who would not be putting them through the harsh conditions of Guadalcanal. As a result, H&R sold many to PDs and other law enforcement agencies across the country:

26

I think Phil is glad he had an MP5 instead! Very true Alex!–Phil

Knowing full well that this firearm has not earned a great reputation, I found a deal on one that was in the “too good to pass up” price range, where even if the gun kind of worked I would be happy.

I set out with my friends CJ and Patrick to see what this little guy could do. Unfortunately I only have aftermarket mags, but I do have a 20 rounder on order which I hope helps reliability. The following happened as we donated some lead to a nearby dirt pile:

So yeah that was a pretty rough shooting session, but I at least hope you enjoyed our banter and the 5% of the time where it actually worked!

The gun performed pretty poorly and I would have thrown it into a river as well if I could have gotten my hands on a nice, old fashioned Springfield 1903 but there are some redeeming qualities the gun has.

After a visit to the local machine gun testing area, we went to a local range to shoot some pistols and sight in some stuff. I decided to see if the Reising was at least accurate and set up a target at about 30 yards.

In semi the gun works well and my groups were good:

IMG_3862

Sights are not bad on the rifle, but adjusting them is a bit odd:

IMG_3873

It is also worth noting that the recoil is lower than you would think for a lightweight .45acp long gun. Not KRISS Vector light mind you, but as light as the much heavier Thompson.

IMG_3874

A rare sight: An M50 Reising working.

All of our groups ended up being about the same, and I would deem this acceptable for any SMG from that time period:

IMG_3876

So what are my final thoughts?

The Good:

  • Cheap
  • Easy to charge (handle under the stock)
  • Very pointable gun with a great length of pull and familiar handling characteristics (points like a 10/22)
  • Great cyclic rate
  • Accurate
  • Light

The Bad:

  • Magazine changes are very hard (that sucker is in there and the tab is hard to push/pull)
  • The trigger is really bad, being both heavy and creepy
  • Compensator susceptible to breakage

The Ugly:

  • Less reliable than a boosted Wankel engine
  • Field stripping takes a long time and there are parts to lose. Also, and this is in the manual, you are supposed to use the striker spring to retain the action spring!:IMG_3892
  • There are directional pins that can only be inserted and removed one way
  • Mags are very expensive ($100 and up)

So the Reising is overlooked for a few very good reasons as I have experienced first hand. Now I know that there are plenty out there that run 100% and the owners are happy with them, but I would say that the M50 was a poor military firearm to begin with by nature of the design. Small, easily lost parts, tight tolerances, and finicky magazines all contributed to this odd little gun being a mere footnote in history.

Thank you for reading the third installment of the “Odd Guns” series. Stay tuned for more!



Alex C.

Alex is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog and Director of TFBTV.


Advertisement

  • Ken

    According to American Rifleman, the USN had some in their shipboard armories and used them for guarding prisoners during Operation Overlord.

    http://www.americanrifleman.org/article.php?id=34160

  • Todd

    The wood on that stock is beautiful. Wish I could afford to buy and feed one.

  • echelon

    Nah, I’ll take one of those cheap homemade South American jobbies. Probably about as reliable and can be had for about $20…

  • I’ve always liked the Reising for being so light. I am given to understand that their problems have been overstated, and besides, the Thompsons I’ve had the chance to handle aren’t nearly as good as they are cracked up to be.

    • Watching the video: It looks like a good design that didn’t get enough troubleshooting. Well, it was designed in 1940! At that point they would have wanted SMGs basically as soon as possible.

      • jdkchem

        Adopted in 1940. They still would have had ~2 years to work out bugs.

        • Depending on when the Guadalcanal guns were made.

          • UnrepentantLib

            Seems like part of the problem was that Reising was still in the pre-war mindset of lots of machining and close tolerances, and part of it was they really needed to send some guns to Panama or some equally swampy place and run them through a serious torture test to identify what needed fixing. Judging from the video, when it works, it’s a nice handling little gun that could have given the M1 Carbine a run for its money.

          • jdkchem

            In which case that could be add new bugs.

    • Patrick R

      The Thompson works though ….

      • iksnilol

        The pre-war versions are nice. Wartime production was crude.

        • You have no idea what you are talking about.

          • iksnilol

            I have an idea, there are Thompsons in Bosnia (still kept by the people that used them). Same applies to MP40s and a bunch of other unexpected guns.

            The M1 models which are simple blowback were crudely made compared to the 1921 model.

          • Not crudely made at all. I have an M1A1, which is by at large considered the crumbiest Thompson of them all (early guns cost $209, M1A1s were $45).
            Yes, it is blowback and lacks the blish lock and fancy bluing, but the gun is immaculately machined and works great. Even the wood looks high dollar. I know you are keen on firearms and I value your input on here more than you know, but this is an area that I feel is out of your area of expertise.
            Also a photo of my “crudely made” M1A1.

          • iksnilol

            You are probably right, I stick to AKs and Dragunovs (+ Commie pistols). Commie guns in general.

            Then again, the examples I have seen were used in a couple of wars without an armorer (armorers are gun healers IMO). Yours looks clean (did you refinish it? Nice handiwork), both physically and spiritually. Was your issued?

          • Yes, my gun was sent to Europe and reimported before our 1986 MG ban, so this is a pre-sample (it can only be owned by dealers and manufacturers like myself). Gun came out of the collection of a retiring dealer so I dont know much about the history of this unit. I will do a full review soon.

          • Anon. E Maus

            Blish-lock was a bunch of hooey, they did good on ditching that in favor of straight-blowback. Keep it simple. The Blish-lock was complex, fragile, and didn’t alter performance in any significant manner, moving to straight-blowback was the natural decision and helped greatly in performance and not to talk about manufacturing costs and time.

  • Marui

    How much did you pay for it?

  • Bill

    I had a supervisor shoot our entire qual course smoking a cigarette or two

    • Patrick R

      I thought that the cigarette might coax more reliability of the gun, I guess it didn’t like the fact that it wasn’t unfiltered.

      • Bill

        Maybe buy it a couple drinks, get it to relax a little….

  • thedonn007

    Nice Rolex.

    • Patrick R

      It is a fake ….

  • If you consider the fully-automatic variants of the Winchester 1907 to be submachine guns, then they predate the Reising, absolutely.

    • Patrick R

      I am pretty sure that was a open bolt blowback design.

      • The 1907? No, it’s most definitely closed bolt.

        • Patrick R

          Of course the semi auto variant is going to be closed bolt. That video is evidence of nothing.

          • Please provide documentation that the fully automatic M1907 was open bolt. I have seen nothing to suggest that. They were simply semi-auto guns modified at the factory for fully automatic operation. They even had a selector lever. Are you suggesting they incorporated an open/closed bolt mechanism?

          • Patrick R

            I am implying that there isn’t enough information to make a determination one way or another. I spent the better part of a few hours trying to track down any mention of the action type that the Winchester 1907 used for full auto fire with no luck. The only thing I have been able to find is that it used a blowback hammer fired action for the semi-auto variant, there is no mention of a delay system. I haven’t even seen anything to suggest they had a selector lever. There just isn’t enough information about the 2,800 or so modified 1907 rifles.

            For all I know they did use an open/closed bolt system, I can’t find enough information to sway me one way or another. The only think I am going on is that gun designers had very little experience with closed bolt man portable machine guns. The most probable solution for them to make the 1907 full auto would be open bolt. if you have a resource that I missed, please post it. I would be glad to be wrong, it would just mean that an american company built the first “modern” sub gun.

            My point with the last post was that a video of a semi auto rifle does nothing to clear the open/closed debate up.

          • You said you were “pretty sure it was an open bolt blowback design”. Why do you think so? Do you have any evidence for this? The semi-automatic rifles are closed-bolt, and the full auto ones are not much diverged from those. Why would they suddenly make them open bolt? What reason have they for doing this? Could you point to any document that suggests they were? Why do you think the “most probable solution” to making the 1907 full auto would be to make the gun open bolt? Why not just add an auto sear, instead?

            Who said anything about a delay system? The gun is straight blowback, with a huge honkin’ bolt mass. It does not need a delay mechanism.

            Everything you’ve said here is speculation (well, I’ll get to the “assault rifle” bit in a minute). Until you give me something more to go on, I can’t lend any more credence to it than that.

            Now, as for it being an assault rifle, I wrote an article citing it as significant in the early history of assault rifles. I don’t think I would exclude it from the family of assault rifles, but the problem here is that the definition of “assault rifle” is pretty murky. Rifles run the absolute gamut in terms of variation and pushing the definition to its limits. So I would steer clear of semantic arguments about the terms “assault rifle” and “submachine gun”.

          • Patrick R

            Show me one bit of evidence that the 1907 fired from a closed bolt when configured for full auto fire and I will gladly admit defeat. Why they suddenly would make them open bolt is because it is the most cost effective and trouble free way of making a semi auto, unlocked breach, blowback operated weapon full auto. Can you point to any documentation that this is not the case? How do you presume that Winchester timed the hammer or striker to fire the round when the breach was fully closed? How about you provide me with some photos of the selector lever you claim it had.

            Personally, I don’t care if you lend any credence to my argument that you are not correct. Until you are able to provide some documentation as to your claims I will continue to assume they are speculation as well.

            Fact is neither of us knows near enough about the action on the full auto 1907.

          • There is a picture of the fully automatic 1907 with selector lever in the first link I posted in this thread.

            Open bolt is the easiest way to convert a closed bolt gun with a firing pin to full-auto? Say what?

            I can point to the fact that the 1907 is closed bolt, and therefore the full auto variant is likely also closed bolt.

            An auto sear provides the timing for this, as I mentioned before.

            Further, it’s pretty clear from looking at the design that open bolt is not a good option for retrofit. The bolt overtravel is minimal, where it wants to be generous in an open-bolt design.

            There are numerous reasons to think that the select-fire French guns were closed bolt. Your speculation that they were open-bolt is just that; it’s completely groundless.

          • Anon. E Maus

            Were there even any open-bolt automatics around by then?
            The earliest open-bolt automatic I can think of is the MP-18, I think pretty much all machineguns before then were closed-bolt.

          • Guest

            Also, if you really want to get technical the 1907 would be classified as an assault rifle rather than a sub gun. The .351 WSL is considered a rifle caliber by many, making it an intermediate cartridge, falling under the definition of an assault rifle.

          • It’s sort of in-between, but yes I consider it closer to assault rifles.

          • Patrick R

            That was supposed to be deleted after I added it to my longer post. Regardless of where you think that cartridge fits in the grand scheme of things it isn’t a pistol cartridge therefore the 1907 couldn’t and wont be considered a SMG. If anything it falls squarely under the definition of an assault rifle firing an intermediate cartridge.

  • confused

    Wait, so it’s cheaper, complex, light, and “The bolt actually locks unlike a blowback SMG too, allowing for a lighter yet faster firing gun”? the confusion is real.

  • DiverEngrSL17K

    If I recall correctly, a small number of Reising M50’s were issued for use during the early to middle stages of the Pacific War, including the Guadacanal Campaign.

    Nathaniel F. made a good point in stating that the Reising may not have had a real chance to have its initial bugs properly addressed via a proper R & D and product-improvement process — such are the exigencies of a wartime footing.

  • DiverEngrSL17K

    Alex, thanks very much for posting this, and for making the time and effort to evaluate the Reising M50. Nice to see a bit more of rare and interesting historical firearms on TFB!

  • cm smith

    Post war many went to police departments. In my youth, two area departments had like-new Reisings in fitted cases with 2 extra magazines. Unfired.
    Contemporary articles I’ve found speak of departments that actually used their Reisings doing so as semi-auto carbines rather than in full-auto.

  • Fuddleton

    It seemed like it was failing to extract a lot. I’m betting it would run better with either hotter ammunition, or a more aggressive ejector, maybe weaker extractor spring if possible.
    I’m sure you’ll be able to get it to work right. Can it feed an entire mag semi-auto?

  • ghost

    I’ll take the Thompson.

  • ensitue

    I fired one at the LAPD Academy back in the 60’s, The gun must be well oiled and the manual of arms observed closely. Not the best nor the brightest in US Gun history and not likely to be repeated

  • SP mclaughlin

    The original select fire Astra Mauser C96’s are the closest non-open bolt firearm that came to my mind, although it’s more of a machine pistol.

    • I have a schnellfeuer I can do an article on if you like.

      • Giolli Joker

        That would be nice!

      • M.J. Mahoney

        That would be great, Alex! And if you could get some footage of you shooting it, that would be even better. Cheers!

    • Yeah, the problem with pinning down a definition like that is that there are so many different permutations of designs that you’ll eventually end up with a semantic argument.

      I can’t, for the moment, find a “stereotypical” subgun earlier than the Reising, which operates from a closed bolt, though.

      I would stress my focus is not on subguns, however.

  • Uncle Dan

    I went to NRA sub gun instructor school at Parchman Prison in Oct. ’98. They encouraged us to bring whatever SMGs our agencies had with us, though we’d be using NRA 9mm Colt’s.

    One dude brought a Reising 50 his dept. had obtained more than 50 years earlier. They must have learned how to maintain them correctly as it ran like a sewing machine with nary a failure to feed & fire.

    • Bill

      To this day, I think people would be amazed at the number of Reisings, Thompsons and BARs in police armories that date back to Roaring Twenties, 1930s and WWII era, when you could walk down to the hardware store and buy one over the counter. One Agency near hear was able to finance new pistols and shotguns for each of their guys just one the trade in of one mint Thompson that was in their armory for decades.

      And if people think the police are militarized now, Google some of the photos of the armored vehicles they had back then.

      • Gunter

        The St. Louis Metropolitan Police department has not one, but two Lewis machine guns that they don’t early t know where they came from..

  • mosinman

    i now want one of these

  • Secundius

    Wasn’t the Reising, suppose to be a cheaply produce alternative to the M1928 Thompson. Somewhat like the M3 Grease Gun, was.

  • whskee

    I’d lose my mind working on that weapon. I don’t even want to be in the same room, I get OCD on guns that don’t sing when they should. Must Fix!!

  • sneezer

    I was told by my grandfather that they could get them to work by holding them sideways so the ejection port was down. They then left the muzzle climb “sweep” the jungle in front of them.

  • Phil Elliott

    We had 2 of these in the armory, when I was on S.O. along with 2 Thompson’s. both of the Reisings, tended to break firing pins, so were not brought out very often. I personally have a Reising .22 which has the exact same action (except in semi only). Works very well, hardly any recoil at all, as you would expect with a gun that weighs almost as much as a Garand.

  • John

    The stories about the Reising being ditched because of the sand gumming up the action are false. Every single gun the United States ever fielded in the Pacific experienced the exact same issues with that sand; it got everywhere. The adverse conditions of island fighting aren’t why it got ditched. The Reising got ditched because they didn’t have interchangeable parts.

    • C.J. Shull

      I’m going to quote history here for a rebuttal. “H&R was justifiably proud of the Reising’s superior accuracy and balance, lighter weight, and ease of manufacturing when compared to the Thompson. However, the Reising’s close tolerance and delicate magazine proved unreliable in the sand and mud of the Solomons—unless kept scrupulously clean. Quickly despised by front-line Marines, Lieutenant Colonel Merritt A. Edson, Commander, 1st Marine Raider Battalion, ordered that Reisings be flung into Guadalcanal’s crocodile infested Lunga River, as his troops resorted to reliable bolt-action Springfield rifles” Robert C. Ankony,” The US .45 Model 50 and 55 Reising submachine gun and Model 60 Semiautomatic Rifle,” Small Arms Review, Jul.2008.

  • john

    The bolt mechanism is AMAZING! Cycling the bolt while holding the rifle with both hands! That is an awesome idea! Who else does that??? It would nicer if it worked…

  • Anon. E Maus

    Well I’ll say.
    I heard the Reising didn’t have interchangeable parts for a lot of them, to speed up production, and it did seem to actually run a little bit better when oiled.

    Consider taking it apart and look at all the moving parts for any burrs or rough areas, and try and polish those up, alternatively also see if you can replace a spring or two. The aftermarket mag is also probably a contributor, so that should be considered.
    I have seen video of these things running reliably, so it’s by no means impossible.