Daniel Watters And I Discuss Machine Pistols At Handgun Radio

After our respective first forays into the Firearms Radio Network, Daniel Watters and I both were asked to return to the program for a Handgun Radio segment. Our topic for this week was machine pistols, their history, their relationship with PDWs, and the possibilities for their future. We cover the earliest documented machine pistol the Steyr-Hahn M.12/P.16, touch on the shadowy Russian Stechkin APS and the tiniest machine pistol, the Trejo, discuss short-barreled M1 and M2 Carbine conversions like the Enforcer, hash out the small caliber high velocity machine pistol concept as most successfully embodied in the H&K MP7, and answer the question: “What, exactly, is a PDW?”


Hopefully this segment helps spark a conversation about the machine pistol and its role in the future. Special thanks to Ryan Michad for inviting me on, and the Firearms Radio Network for hosting such a great show!

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.


  • DetroitMan

    Interesting toys, but not all that useful. They are too big to replace pistols. An SBR is only a little bigger and much more capable. PDW’s only really have two uses. One is for discreet security who want something bigger than a pistol. Of course they have to be willing to carry it in a briefcase or a wear some kind of long coat to conceal it. The other is for military vehicle drivers, but then they run into competition from general issue infantry carbines. There aren’t many vehicles where the driver could fit a PDW but not a carbine. In a ground vehicle it’s generally better to just allow a little more space for the carbine. In an aircraft you only have what you can eject with, which has to be strapped to you. Pistols remain the preferred option because they take the least space, and ejecting over enemy territory is the last thing any pilot wants to do, regardless of what weapon they have.

    IMO, the drawbacks of the PDW outweigh the benefits in most cases. Other weapons just work better in real world scenarios.

    • TheNotoriousIUD

      I think the PDW is best utilized by protection details who don’t want to get into a gun battle just throw a lot of lead at the threat to keep the bad guys head down so the principal can escape.

  • Darkpr0

    PDWs and machine pistols will always exist so long as someone, somewhere, has a demand for more portability than an assault rifle or carbine can manage. Back with the M16A1 was roaring, stuff had 20 inch barrels. There existed stuff like the Colt Commando and super-shorties but your standard issue rifle was a long weapon. At that time, the M4 made a ton of sense, as did even smaller stuff like the MP5 and the FN P90. The M16 wasn’t short enough to fit everywhere.Fast forward some years with the M4 being standard issue, 14 inches from 20 inches is a big difference. The gulf between the standard issue weapon and the SMGs of the day no longer had such a large portability advantage. So the PDW fades somewhat, and here we are.

    IMO the P90 is still the king of portable firepower, but it comes with sacrifices. It is almost uncomfortably small. It is not ergonomic for me. It has a funny layout. The round isn’t as powerful as an assault rifle. The PDW can not be a standard issue weapon because you are sacrificing functionality for convenience. The standard issue weapon MUST be a blend of performance focusing on functionality. But like the M1 Carbine many years before, I think there are situations where you need a firearm, but the need is sufficiently less that you can make the sacrifice. If you’re in a tank and you can store extra shells, or extra equipment at the cost of taking a P90 over an M4? You’re a lot more likely to need the shells or equipment. It makes sense to sacrifice the what-if functionality for the definitely-will functionality.

    As long as there exists a gulf between the standard-issue arm and maximum portability, and there is a fringe where portability is needed… PDWs will not die.

    • Joe

      The PDW, in the context of issue to rear-echelon, will never be widely adopted by the US military, and I doubt many others.

      Units that are not Combat Arms end up with whatever the previous service rifle was.

      Currently that’s changing from the M16A2/A4 to the shorter M4/M4A1.

      So instead of a super-convenient PDW they lug around full length rifles.

      At best transition to the M4 platform is universal and then a larger/longer range weapon is required for Combat Arms.

      This will leave the M4 as the closest we’ll see to a PDW issued to troops in the rear.

  • Mike

    Machine pistols must be great toys to shoot, not much use in combat. probably the one handgun that could be useful would be the FiveseveN pistol due to its low recoil, but that would conflict with the P90.
    Any troops that could come into contact with the enemy would be better served with a M4, They are cheaper, use the same ammo/mags and training will be easier. If you are going to fight a man who has a rifle then you better have a rifle. While PDW have their place I think they should be used a “super” handguns. Used until you can get a rifle in your hands.

    • ostiariusalpha

      LOL! Has the time arisen for the bullpup machine pistol, maybe? Is it time to get all Ghost in the Shell up in somebody’s business?

      • Well, there was the Colt IMP and Sid McQueen’s Sidewinder SMG.

        • ostiariusalpha

          Wow. Those are two ways to make a super cool idea look really lame, best just to leave them as forgotten curios in the museum of blind alley firearms development.

      • nobody

        Bullpup pistols really have no purpose, especially as a machine pistol. The gains in barrel length are negligible as pistol magazines are already at the back of the gun, by moving the grip to the front of the gun you lose the ability to have a foregrip on a machine pistol (unless you plan to grip the magazine with your other hand), you lose the ability to grip the pistol so that it recoils directly back into your arm when using on hand unless the magazine is angled in which case it will be even worse to shoot if you have to switch to your weak hand, depending on how far the barrel sticks out in front you might not be able to get a full thumbs forward grip, and holsters would be awkward as hell. Only real advantages they would have is short overall length if one was to attach a stock (also with a stock, putting both hands at the very front of the gun would be ideal for controlability) and the ability to use magazines wider than what one could comfortably fit in a pistol grip (be it larger caliber double stack magazines or 9mm quad stack magazines).

        • ostiariusalpha

          Oh boy, where do I even begin here? I can’t say that the idea of a bullpup machine pistol is an overwhelmingly obvious stroke of ingenuity, it has plenty of disadvantages and complications. But, to play Devil’s advocate, I would point out that even an inch of extra barrel on a pistol has quite a substantial effect on the muzzle energy and velocity of the bullet. A Boberg pistol, for instance, has a full sized pistol’s performance in a compact pistol’s size. Having the weapon recoil directly into your arm is only relevant if you are holding the pistol out in front of you while carefully aiming each shot. You wouldn’t do that with this kind of pistol, instead you’d be pouring automatic fire from the hip (and shoulder with perhaps an under or over folding stock) to fend off an attacker long enough to enable your retreat or reinforcement; the kind of situation that security & protection details plan for regularly. The advantage of the entire concept is exactly this quick deploying, compact firepower. As for gripping with your off hand, you could certainly just use a standard pistol grip, though there are plenty of bullpup SBR designs that manage to create a grip surface.

        • ostiariusalpha

          You could even consider the kind of hand/trigger guard that the Tavor or X95 uses as a place to grip with the offhand.

  • Tassiebush

    I’d love to see an effectiveness comparison between a machine pistol and a pistol and an SMG.

  • Tassiebush

    I finally got a chance to listen to it. good work fellas! that was a very entertaining and informative show. good exploration on the limitations and small number of niche uses for machine pistols and a good explanation of pdw concept too. I was glad the Trejo was mentioned too. it’s a quirky little idea, the pocket machinepistol.

  • nobody

    Just a few of my thoughts on this. First with full auto and increasing accuracy/hit rate, considering pistol ammunition can only damage what it directly impacts and shot placement is pretty much everything, a controllable full auto gun capable of putting multiple rounds nearby each other/in center of mass has a much greater chance of hitting something important that will disable a person quickly. A lot of people seem to miss the same fact for shotguns, while the “wall of lead” hitting the person if you aren’t aiming for them won’t play out, 27 pellet #4 buckshot gives you a very high chance of hitting the vitals such as the heart/spine at closer ranges as long as you are aiming near them, at a range where the spread is about 6″ in diameter that will give you about 1 pellet per square inch assuming it patters evenly (no, it won’t be that even, but still that’s a lot of pellets in a small area), kind of hard to miss any vital organ in that 6″ circle as long as the pellets penetrate far enough. I also noticed that they missed talking about the rate reducer on the Stetchkin that brings its rate of fire down to 600-750 rounds per minute. Also, as to how much you can improve the accuracy/controlability of a gun by adding more points of contact (such as a stock) for those who are curious, I have a Masterpiece Arms MAC-11 clone (the MPA930 SST, the mini model with the top rail) that I have mounted a small red dot sight on and when shooting it have a single point sling that I push the gun outward against to stabilize it (left hand grips the front of the gun with the web between my thumb and pointer up against the charging handle, I don’t grip it by the barrel extension), at 75 yards my groups are only about 2″ larger than what I can shoot with my SKS (completely stock) at the same distance and if I remember correctly I was able to fire the MAC-11 just as fast or slightly faster than the SKS, and that was several months ago when I first got that MAC-11 clone and didn’t have much experience with it (going to bring it out and do that test again when I get the time now that I’ve shot it more).