Inside The Arms Room of The Swiss Guard

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Thanks to the effort of a guest poster for WeaponsMan.com, Internet arms and armor enthusiasts now have a rare look inside the armory of the famous Pontifical Swiss Guard, a five-hundred-year-old military unit tasked with guarding the Holy See in the Vatican. The unit is famous for its antiquated-looking formal dress and arms, but as we’ll see, they have access to much more modern weapons as their duties are not simply ceremonial. The full post is available over at WeaponsMan.com, but I have sample some of the most relevant bits for our readers. Still, I highly encourage you to follow the think and read the whole thing:

I recently returned from a trip to the Eternal City with my wife’s family and was able to make a tour that I thought you might enjoy hearing about.  Being a Marine with a similar duty, I had a special interest in seeing the barracks of my counterparts in the Vatican — so when my brother-in-law said he could get us and a tour of the armory of the world’s oldest continuously operating army — I jumped at the chance.

The Guardia Svizzera Pontificia, or Pontifical Swiss Guard, has operated continuously for over 509 years.  This reinforced company sized unit is composed of 110 men.  They are led by a commandant and three officers, 1 SNCO and 25 NCO’s.  The courtyard was draped with large flags representing the different states in Switzerland. Blonde children were running around the courtyard, in a quiet respite from Rome’s busy streets, just on the other side of the walls.

The army of Vatican City is perhaps best known for their ceremonial duties, but they also perform body-guard duties comparable to our U.S. Secret Service (they perform a blend of both uniform and special agent division duties).  Personal security of the pope is split between the Vatican Police and Swiss Guard.

I was surprised that we were led into the armory, and without all the usual tell-tale signs of a leatherneck’s iteration.  It was clear that this was not the storehouse of (all) their modern weapons, but it was a functioning armory nonetheless.  Given the unit’s age, it is no small collection.

Helmet...check. Armor... check... Where's your reflective belt, Devil Dog?

The armory had halberds, swords, bayonets the length of swords, two-handed swords, a blunderbuss that must have weighted 40 lbs, and bolt-, semi-, and automatic weapons used throughout their history.  There were also the traditional medieval sets of armor that they are famous for, weighing close to 40lb each.  These armor suits are still worn daily.  It amazed me how far we have come in both personal protection and weapon technologies, and that one organization experienced these many developments first hand.  Remarkable.

I was only able to identify two weapons from sight- the pair of Sig 550’s and an MP40. (We can plug those gaps for him — Ed.) The latter was surrendered at the end of WWII by a Nazi soldier whose unit besieged the Vatican during the war.  Shortly before Rome was abandoned by the Germans, he turned himself over to the Swiss Guards.  The unnamed soldier’s weapon and helmet are still kept there in pristine condition alongside the Swiss weapons.  If the weapons in that room could talk, I can only imagine the tales they would tell.

In the foreground, you can see the MP.40 mentioned above. You can also see

There were SMGs, carbines, rifles, though there was a conspicuous lack of pistols from any time period.  One carbine was short and looked slightly odd, though I didn’t quite know why at first.  I later learned it was a SIG MKPO, with a unique folding magazine.  Another reminded me of a Marlin .22 from my younger days, but was elaborately engraved.  Some of side-mounted bayonets were shorter (not terribly, though) than the Marine NCO sword. Axes, clubs, and various poled-weapons also filled some space.

This is the rack of SIG MKMO/MKPO submachine guns. Extremely rare, only 1,225 or so were made. Designed by Pál Király with his usual lever-delayed blowback design. (In fact, these guns could easily be mistaken for Hungarian Danuvia K-39, one of Kiraly's greatest successes).

It’s highly unusual indeed to see an armory filled with early-Renaissance plate armor and 20th Century submachine guns and assault rifles alike, but the Swiss Guard is far from an ordinary unit. Existing for over 500 years (next year will be their 510th anniversary), the Swiss Guard is made up of Swiss Catholics who have completed Swiss military basic training. The Swiss guard purchases their own weapons with their own requirements, and this is reflected by the unusual mix of firearms housed in the armory. From SIG MKMO submachine guns, of which the Swiss Guard was one of the only adopters, to the extremely rare Papal State M1868 Remington Rolling Block rifles, the armory is both a working building and a time capsule, with weapons serving both as arms at the ready, and a historical record of the unit.

For a look at more cool Swiss guns, you can check out TFB contributor Max Popenker’s trip to the RUAG Museum, or Alex C’s TFBTV segment on the SIG AMT/510.



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 can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Mark

    Need to join the Vatican City CMP…

    • Don Ward

      Just email Nathaniel. He is happy to answer CMP related questions…

      Although for the Swiss guard, you must be a Swiss citizen, a “Roman Catholic faithful”, of good moral and ethical background, attended military school in Switzerland, are between 19 and 30, at least 174 cm tall, not married and have a professional diploma or a high school degree.

      http://www.vatican (DOT) va/roman_curia/swiss_guard/swissguard/ammissione_en.htm

  • Yimmy

    Awesome experience and thank you for sharing. Deus Vult!

  • USMC03Vet

    +2 Accuracy Plate Armor

  • mosinman

    Deus Vult!

    • G0rdon_Fr33man

      Always thought it was Deus lo vult…

      • mosinman

        Deus Vult= God wills

  • Pop pop pop wa heretics dropth

    Pope Innocent’s new mix tape:

    Apostalic Aggression – Heretic Best CheckthThy Person Before Thou Wreckth Thy Person

  • Cal.Bar

    Not bad for a guy who implies arms manufacturers are not Christians, and decries the sales, use and possession of weapons world wide.

    • Bill

      …and is probably one of the most-targeted officeholders for assassination in the world. The way this Pope goofs around in public, I bet his protective detail has to wear diapers. Our President rides in a tank with a convoy, the guy with the post-hole digger hat scoots around NYC in a Fiat with the windows down.

      • Anomanom

        That is what you call a true believer.

      • SirOliverHumperdink

        Pope was w/ a HUGE detail of the secret service the whole time.

    • phuzz

      Well, he is the pope, so if he says that arms manufacturers aren’t Christian, then technically that applies to all true Catholics. Of course, Protestants don’t count as Christians as far as Catholicism is concerned, and the rest of us are just heathens 😉

  • Bill

    I’m guessing the Vatican is a lot like Disney World – If you try to start some feces a bunch of ninjas just rise up from under the bushes and you just vanish…

    • SirOliverHumperdink

      I’ve been to both. There the similarities are neither has a picture of Jesus, (just the old Popes of the past and mickey mouse).

  • Realist

    I’m digging that Schmeiser…

  • Winter

    I saw a show a few years back that went into detail about the Swiss Guard at the Vatican. They discussed their training and the weapons actually used in case of a SHTP situation vs the traditional steel armor, halberds and puffy pants folks see every day. Absolutely fascinating.

  • Pranqster

    NICE