Experimental WWI Blowback Submachine Gun

WWI was a time of runaway technology that in many ways outstripped the tactical and strategic thinking of the era. Older concepts of the dominance of technologies like the bayonet, and long-range rifle fire, and of the preeminence of the elan or morale of soldiers died hard as thinkers of the era struggled to integrate new weapons like machine gun and the long-range breechloading artillery piece into a theory of warfare that would give whomever found it first the winning edge.

The result of this time of upheaval was the development of yet more weapons, such as the infantry mortar, flamethrower, and submachine gun that promised to break the stalemate and bring victory to whomever utilized them. Some such inventions went on to change or even revolutionize warfare, but some were all but forgotten after the war. One such weapon, featured in the video embedded below, was a submachine gun developed by William Andrews in the United States in 1918:

The submachine gun as a concept would of course go on to a long career as a compact close quarters weapon system and a cheap, mass-producible solution to the problem of arming as many conscripts and volunteers as possible during the Second World War, but the unnamed submachine gun described in the video below has fallen into obscurity. Fed from a drum of ten 7-round single-stack pistol magazines, the .45 caliber weapon is evidently partly inspired by a 1911 handgun. While it’s unknown if the 70-round drum is automatically rotated after every 7-round magazine is depleted, the weapon does appear to have a mechanism located near the drum mount, which could be an automatic actuation device.

It’s evident that the designer probably thought of the weapon less like a submachine gun as we know it today, and more of a fully automatic pistol – what we might now call a “machine pistol”. The gun lacks sights, a shoulder stock or any sort of foregrip; whether this was due to it being a demonstrator or whether it was really intended to be used as “trench-sweeper” used without sights or stock from the hip is unknown. With an early design like this, anything is possible!

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


  • iksnilol

    That’s one way to have a high cap while using common small capacity magazines.

    Wonder how this would work with Glock mags?

    • Para

      Bloomberg just had a heart attack 🙂

    • Zebra Dun

      A bullet spitter at 100 yards!
      I was thinking the same thing, more like the concept of a pocket light machine gun.
      This reminds me of the Japanese WW 2 submachine guns with sights out to the edge of space and a bi-pod attached along with a bayonet just for sheets and giggles. Firing an 8 mm pistol round!

      • iksnilol

        What!? 100 yards? You aren’t optimistic at all. Get a good T&E system and you could get it to 300 meters 😛

        • Zebra Dun

          I was considering “aimed” fire, for good old plunging fire it’s good for at least 300 yards LOL a bullet rain and such.

          • iksnilol

            Yeah, it’d make a good trench broom. And some decent artillery if used correctly.

  • aka_mythos

    I wonder if this could be a work around for the unfortunate people in states with magazine capacity limits?

    • BryanS

      The overall magazine clip (correct term there? its new ground!) would be considered a ammunition holding device and that would be regulated.

      • Phil Hsueh

        I think that it would depend largely on how it functioned, if it fired from one magazine at a time then it really wouldn’t be all that different from a shell holder on a shotgun, at least in my opinion it would. If, on the other hand, it fired one per mag at at time then I’d say that it falls into more of a grey area.

      • GearHeadTony

        The KSG that I legally own in CA says otherwise

      • Cymond

        The SRM1216 is legal in California. It has a cluster of 4-round magazines, for 16 rounds total. It must be manually rotated after firing 4 shots. It’s essentially the same as a magazine coupler.
        The RCI X-Rail, however, isn’t legal in CA because it feeds all of its rounds continuously.

        And don’t forget this sillyness: http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2014/01/14/omc-ultamag-the-star/

        • BryanS

          And this seems to rotate and feed on its own. Otherwise, it would be overly bulky for no reason.

      • Sianmink

        It’s a legit high capacity clipazine!

        • Zebra Dun

          Ya need to copyright that name LOL

    • Canadian Vet

      I think that is plausible, if the magazines get used up one at a time. Because if it works that way then it is not much different than a magazine coupler, or duct-taping 2 mags together.

  • BryanS

    Was hoping to see a demonstration and someone using correct terminology 🙁

    • LG

      Interestingly, if one reviews the early army manuals on the 1911 what we call magazines were labeled as clips.

      • Zebra Dun

        They were clips I believe then, doesn’t a magazine have to have a self contained spring in side?
        While a clip simply holds the rounds until you get it in the rifles magazine?

  • MarkVShaney

    I wonder if it spins while firing so that 1 round per magazine is fed, or if it runs through a full magazine before advancing to the next.

    • iksnilol

      I assume that mechanically it’d be simpler to have it rotate for every round.

    • Zebra Dun

      Watch your fingers!

  • Jeff Smith

    Claire Samuelson, I’m your new best friend.

  • Nicholas Chen

    She should know better than to call them clips.

  • Tassiebush

    Gee I love all the design dead ends like this! It’s fun to marvel at how they probably intended to use them.

  • Tassiebush

    It’s interesting that in the early days of machine guns the idea of the volley was still seen as quite relevant and mechanical machine guns like the nordenfelt fired more of a series of volleys rather than bursts. While the nordenfelt was obsolete by this time, service rifles in many cases still had volley sights and troops trained in it. In that context the idea of a small portable gun like this that fired 7 round bursts probably appeared quite reasonable.

  • Southpaw89

    I want one, probably wouldn’t be too hard for someone to make a semi auto version, only challenge would be if that mag drum is self rotating, that might be tricky.

  • Zebra Dun

    Where they have 13,000 artifacts! Beejeebus! I’d go nuts inventorying them.

  • MrApple


  • Asdf

    That was horrible. She didn’t elude to anything on how it works. Please let forgotten weapons come in and do a better video.

  • Gormlo

    hurr durr durr, magazine