Reising: the wannabe Thompson

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This post is part of two others, about a recent range outing with some very historically interesting small arms, the DeLisle commando carbine, the M50 Reising submachine gun, and the Russian PM1910 Maxim heavy machine gun. All of these are NFA items (either Class III or suppressed) and the owner was extremely kind enough to take me out and blow over a thousand rounds through his small arms.

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The M50, M55, and M60 Reising gained an infamous reputation during World War Two as the sort of little train that really couldn’t. The design and production were finalized in 1938 by Eugene Reising, working for Harrington & Richardson. Interestingly enough, Reising worked alongside John Browning the early 1900s and even contributed to certain design aspects of the 1911. The .45 ACP submachine gun was originally intended to be a competitor against the then M1928 Thompson. Compared in cost and length of time spent in production, the Thompson was no match for the Reising, being relatively complicated to produce. In actual operation on the range, they were almost equals as well, with the Thompson being perhaps the easier of the two to be controllable on full auto (the Thompson was almost 11 pounds compared to the Reising’s almost 7 pounds). However, once the two got in theater, the contrast in quality was horribly evident. The U.S. Army never had a need for the Reising because of the logistical priorities, but the Marines couldn’t get enough Thompsons so bought the Reisings as a sort of stop gap in the early parts of the island hopping campaign. The results were abysmal, with malfunctions and jams galore among the new submachine gun. There are reports from Marine units wherein a unit received a shipment of Reisings, and rather than issue them out to Marines, they instead dumped them in the nearest water source.

The problem was that the Reising as a submachine gun in use in the United States, didn’t have much of a problem when used by Coast Guard units, Law Enforcement, and other authorities. But when the gun was introduced to the heat and temperatures of the tropics where it hadn’t been thoroughly tested, or designed for, all sorts of problems ensued.

Three versions of the submachine gun were produced, the standard M50 with full length wooden stock, the M55 with folding wire stock and shorter barrel, and the M60, a Law Enforcement civilian legal version with a 16.5 inch barrel and available only in semiautomatic. Towards the end of the war, the Reising saw less and less action as supplies of Thompsons, especially the M1 and M1A1 variants became more readily pressed into service. Post war the Reising saw success with many police departments in the United States, until adoption of more modern submachine guns and rifles replaced it. Today you can own an original Reising for as little as $10,000 and speed reload to your hearts content with magazines that cost $100 a piece! This is why you don’t see me dropping them in the video…

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Everything about the Reising almost screams out “No” when it comes to where controls should be and where they aren’t. For example, the selector switch is nowhere near readily accessible by a flick of the finger without breaking your grip. The magazine release is this awkward lever located on the magazine well itself, that almost seems to work counter intuitively when trying to pull out a magazine. In addition the magazine just begs to be held as a forward grip, which is probably a common cause for feeding problems because of hand pressure on the exposed magazine. Another point is that unlike the Thompson with a choice of either 30 or 20 rounds, the Reising almost short shifts itself by only having a 12 or 20 round choice of capacity. The charging lever can’t be locked to the rear and is located underneath the barrel, through a slot in the stock. Imagine was happens when the barrels gets hot? Yeap, your itty bitty finger is sliding right up next to it!

But, I did enjoy shooting it. The submachine gun functioned very well on full auto and on semiautomatic, grouping nicely at 50 meters. True to its reputation it suffered a malfunction or two, but nothing that really hung the gun up. Recoil was significantly more than a Thompson, but nothing that you couldn’t control using forward pressure and short bursts. We mag dumped a couple magazines of 20 so it really wasn’t all that bad. One point I did admire was how quick it was able to clear a malfunction or charge the closed bolt, with just a swipe of my finger instead of bringing my hand off the gun.

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Given its performance in the jungles of the Pacific, I wouldn’t want to be an NCO or officer with the thing as my primary weapon system. Maybe if I was in a support capacity as a radio operator, the lighter folding stock M55 would be a better choice over the .30 caliber M1 carbine with its diminutive round but only in a defensive position and not as an offensive one.

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Miles V

Former Infantry Marine, and currently studying at Indiana University. I’ve written for Small Arms Review and Small Arms Defense Journal, and have had a teenie tiny photo that appeared in GQ. Specifically, I’m very interested in small arms history, development, and Military/LE usage within the Middle East, and Central Asia.

If you want to reach out, let me know about an error I’ve made, something I can add to the post, or just talk guns and how much Grunts love naps, hit me up at miles@tfb.tv


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  • Don Ward

    You know, with all the good stories that get written about historic firearms here at TFB, I cringe when I get a muddle-headed atrocity like this presented to me.

    Maybe I’m spoiled by great content that Nathan F. and Alex C. give to me. But isn’t it too much to expect other contributors to actually read those stories before they trot out nonsense like this.

    “M55 would be a better choice over the .30 caliber M1 carbine with its diminutive round but only in a defensive position and not as an offensive one.”

    Yeah. I think we’ve established the .30 Carbine was a fairly potent weapon in the hands of the American GI in World War 2.

    • Hold on here. In the own words of the authors you do seem to respect on here, Nathaniel F., I do quote-

      “The .30 Carbine caliber, which Lowe suggests could replace the .300 Blackout, is as equally an absurd choice as the carbine that fires it. The caliber in military Hague-compliant full-metal-jacket form is a notoriously poor wounder (although even that has been exaggerated over time), and has awful ballistic characteristics more akin to a small caliber magnum handgun round than a rifle round. For comparison, the Soviet 7.62x39mm M43 caliber fires a full-metal-jacket steel-cored pointed projectile at close to 400 feet per second faster than the M1 Carbine’s ball round. The finer ballistic shape of the Soviet projectile and heavier weight also allow it to carry energy better. It should be the superior performer, so what do we know of that round’s lethality?”

      In addition to a number of reports from Korea wherein GIs talk about how North Korean and Chinese soldiers would get shot by .30 Carbine rounds, and simply pull the bullet out of their winter jackets because the thing couldn’t penetrate through it! Fairly potent? Maybe at point blank range.

      • jcitizen

        There was a short time when the 30 carbine round was the most powerful handgun round you could buy. I used to hunt with the 10″ barreled Enforcer pistol when I was a kid. and I never found such an effective wild dog killer until I bought my first AK variant. I’d trust that carbine in battle any day. The advantages in light weight, in both rifle and ammo, and the high fire power of the issue 20 rd mags made it a contender in the kit of WW2 fame. It was vastly superior in range and accuracy to the Schmeiser MP40, which was what it was up against. most of the time. Of course today, it is sorely lacking, but I never had as much fun on the range as I did with my cut down carbine pistol. I fully intend to buy the new variants coming on the market now.

  • andrey kireev

    It’s fun discovering little known weapons that actually made it into military service in fairly small numbers, like this little SMG or Johnson Rifle. Keep up the good work !

    • William Nelson

      Amen.

    • JoshCalle

      You should check out “forgotten weapons” on YouTube and Full30. I think Ian contributes here on TFB sometimes too.

      • UnrepentantLib

        “Forgotten Weapons” has a video where Ian talks about and shoots the Model 55 folding stock version. Worth a look.

      • andrey kireev

        i have seen forgotten weapons before =) I just don’t necessary absorb all the info until I read it….

  • Carl Mumpower

    Thank you for an interesting article on an unfamiliar bit of history. I understand your point – clean and presteen requirement, among others, shalacked this weapon’s potentials.

  • Martin Grønsdal

    is the charging handle under the gun?

    • Zachary marrs

      Yup

    • It is recessed in a slot under the forearm.

    • DIR911911 .

      2nd to last picture shows it

  • Zachary marrs

    .45acp is pretty a poor performer compared to the .30 carbine

    • gunsandrockets

      To be fair, back in that era when .45 SMG were most popular they did have hot loaded .45 ACP ammunition available intended just for SMG use. Though I don’t know if the US military ever issued such ammunition.

      • jcitizen

        I’d say you are correct, although I have bought “hot” 30 carbine ammo that was NATO surplus for the machine carbine 1st introduced in the Korean war. Now that ammo would ruin a cheap carbine copy made in Florida, that is for sure! My brother owned an M9 with SAS issue markings on it, that would not shoot anything but the hot NATO varieties of 9mm.

    • DIR911911 .

      .30 carbine is a pretty poor performer compared to 308 . . . (see what I did there )

      • Zachary marrs

        And .308 is a pretty poor performer compared to .50 BMG

        Everything is a trade off, but if you think .45 acp is better than .30 carbine, you are either clueless or delusional.

  • LG

    I could always shoot the Reising better than the Thompson. The bore axis in the Reising is much closer to the stock and shooters shoulder than in the Thompson so that the recoil was more straight back and less torqued. Even with the muzzle compensator the Thompson was much more difficult to hold down on full auto than the little Reising, even with the Reising being much lighter.

    • gunsandrockets

      The only SMG I’ve fired were a Suomi and Thompson. It’s interesting how the actual firing qualities didn’t meet my expectations, as I found the Thompson easier to control despite its odd slanted buttplate. The problem with the Suomi was the cyclic rate was too fast and there was no good place to hold it with my left hand.

  • claymore

    Why do people that should know better persist in holding onto the magazine and or mag housing? There is a perfectly good stock you could be holding.

    • gunsandrockets

      Why? I suppose because of natural ergonomics.

      • claymore

        Or they are tacticool

        • Doctor Jelly

          A guy I work with that served (Army infantry) said he does it because it was easier to maneuver/manipulate the rifle while in a vehicle (Humvee or other). Since the guy that wrote this also served (Marine infantry), I’d make the assumption that it is a common practice among modern military folks rather than trying to imitate a fad.
          Personally I prefer my support hand pretty far forward, but I was never in the armed forces nor had a need for more agile movement with my rifle in a confined environment.

          • claymore

            Whatever ever their reasoning they are ruining the weapon and possibly inducing faults and malfunctions.

    • I’m well aware of the magazine issues that come with grasping a magazine as a grip while firing.
      However.
      The Reising has that recipricating charging handle inside the stock, right above where your support hand is gripping the stock. One could easily have a finger or two slip into the stock and get it mashed up during the course of fire.
      I’m trying to grasp the magazine housing rather than the actual magazine. There is usually nothing that can go wrong when you put pressure on the housing, the magazine is where the issues can occur if you put pressure on it, that interrupts the feeding.

  • gunsandrockets

    • Russ Kell

      Now that looks like fun.

      Though that charging handle location is just not right at all 😉

      • Zachary marrs

        Nothing to jab you in the back or stomach when slung.

        I have my grandfather’s leatherneck, a civilian version of the military trainer, and its always fun to watch people fiddle with it when looking for the charging handle

        • Phil Elliott

          I also have a .22 Reising, fun accurate gun. came with a 10 rd mag. and a made up 20 rd from 2 originals, Works ok tho. Does yours have the micro peep sight?

          • Zachary marrs

            Yup

    • jcitizen

      I would love to see how many hit the target, if any at all.

  • DIR911911 .

    never heard of it . . . and I’m pretty sure ya’ll are making stuff up 🙂 but I want one

  • UnrepentantLib

    A very clever design, but it needed more time for testing and some serious feed back from the users and tweaking, which just wasn’t available in ’41-’42.

  • Frank Stratton

    Would like to own one to go with my 1928.
    Not as good a gun but more accurate. It serves well as a law enforcement gun. Is more of an “auto rfle” than military subgun.
    Traditional style stock is more pleasing to me and easier to use. There is someone that converts Thompson 30 Rd mags for it. Have enough extras to do this.

  • Frank Stratton

    Also have a correct m1a1 don’t compare them. Shows your ignorance of thier use.

  • Frank Stratton

    The gunew I want to.put together is a Raisin g with a m1a1 stock. Just because.

  • BigFED

    In the late 1960’s. I was a Reserve Deputy on a Kansas Sheriff’s office. As I was being shown around the station, they opened the armory and the first things I saw were two Model 50 Reisings. The next thing was a Thompson 1928.

    • Old Vet

      When I was LEO in Mo. in the 70’s our Corporal’s car had the Army style trunk box with our 1928’s in it. They were never brought out in my time that I remember. I drove slot a couple of times and I guess secretly I had hoped for an “incident” that would require bringing those puppies out of that magic box. Now I think about how bad that situation would have had to have been and it scares me….haha

  • jcitizen

    In the ’70s we called that the poor man’s machine gun. They were treated with such disdain that nobody would buy them, and the prices were ridiculously cheap. It is hard to believe a West Hurley M1928 Thompson only cost 425 dollars back then, Them was the days!1

  • Carl_N_Brown

    I looked at a Reising Rewat in 1985 and could not see paying more in Form 4 transfer tax ($200) than the vendor was asking for the gun, a registered DEWAT that had been reactivated. It was the only WWII SMG in my price range, other than a kit built Sten. Then came the 1986 Hughes Amendment freezing the NFA registry ….

    Reading U.S. proving ground tests on the Reising, I learned that the Reising’s accuracy was great on semi-auto; field strip disassembly and reassembly time compared to Marlin UD42, Thompson M1928A1 and British Sten Mark II was horrible. What is a big red flag: none of the testers could disassemble and reassemble the Reising blindfolded.

    Bad points: Lotsa small separate parts, complicated design, and the internal parts were hand fitted in manufacture, not all made to the same spec interchangeable without fitting. There is no empty space in the action for fouling or dirt to be pushed out of the way. Issuing that weapon to U.S. Marines who were fighting in salt water, sand and mud in the south Pacific was stupidity (or desperation). White glove inspection clean the Reising works and would be better than a broomstick with a bayonet until it stopped shooting. Must have been desperation.

    I have read about a few sets of people who used the Reising successfully:
    _ police who have an armorer to maintain the guns in perfect condition to be issued as needed for brief guard or riot duty;
    _ Army commandos for raids of less than 48 hours duration (compared to an 11 pound Thompson, a 6.2 pound M55 allowed one to carry 5 pounds less or 5 pounds more of something else);
    _ Marines assigned to ships for duties like guarding POWs.

    Just an old gun buff who misspemdt his youth browsing WHB Smith “Small Arms of the World” in the 1950s and 1960s.