The Liberator’s Forgotten Caliber Upgrade – Winchester’s Liberator Shotguns

Despite 1,000’s being made and attempting effective employment, Liberator handguns from the Second World War tend to be looked down upon. The diminutive .45 gun was simply difficult to use and near impossible to employ accurately (as demonstrated by Forgotten Weapons), requiring point-blank employment. However, the concept of the “liberator” firearm as an inexpensive effective firearm to arm resistance fighters was and still is a valid concept.

In the early 1960’s, weapon’s designer Robert Hillberg conceived of a weapon employing the latest manufacturing techniques, that was “cheap-but-effective.” Recognizing this, DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) encouraged Hillberg and Winchester firearms to continue the design.

At first, the design was quite ambitious. The new Liberator was to use all magnesium castings and steel only for the liners of four 12 gauge barrels, which in-turn used 4 pre-packaged shells. Unfortunately, the pre-packaged shells were a bit too ambitious, so the design was modified into the Mark II, which used COTS ammunition and a break-action for loading and unloading.

Unfortunately, the casting technologies of the day were not quite capable by today’s standards and casting the frames over the steel inserts proved to be too difficult, prompting the Mark III, which used traditional stampings. At this point, the procurement and development winds changed direction and with military interest waning, Winchster had few options to sell the design.

For the full history and details, enjoy Forgotten Weapons’ video below:

Nathan S

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


  • Tassiebush

    Awesome I’ve wanted to see real life footage and examination of this for probably close to 15years

  • Audie Bakerson

    20 bucks (the estimated price for these) manufacturing cost in 1960 is a little over 160 USD today just from inflation (regulatory costs almost certainly would drive it even higher). I strongly suspect the Mossberg Maverick (more shots, wouldn’t really worry about putting hot loads in it, almost certainly lighter) is around that in cost to Mossberg given I can find it for ~200. This isn’t nearly as cheap to make as it seems

    • iksnilol


      I’mma get the hacksaw.

      • Major Tom

        And a soldering kit.

  • gfbk

    Do you think going extremely compact with 7″ barrels, or non-NFA with 18″ barrels would have helped?

  • Major Tom

    So basically they tried and FAILED to replicate ye olde Volley Gun!

    • DaveP.

      Not so much. A volley gun fires off all the barrels at one time, and was a fairly expensive item in the days when it was popular (too pricey to really catch on, in fact).
      These were designed to be ultimately cheap and simple to construct and to fire one barrel at a time.
      Different philosophy and execution both.

  • This always sounded like a completely absurd idea; it must be cheaper to just make a dirt basic break open single barrel with a Stenlike wire stock that has slots for five or six shells, for cryin’ out loud.

    • tts

      I think the goal was cheap rapid semi-auto-like fire capability with shotgun cartridges. Its pretty hard to do this without doing something at least a lil’ absurd like these weapons.

      The final product might not have been any good at all but its still a interesting idea if you want lots of close range fire power I guess.

      • With how cheap even pump action 12gauges were at the time, it really should have been cheaper/easier to make four 12ga “shotStens” and bundle them together than the time/effort/money spent designin’ an’ refinin’ this thing; hell, the end users could’ve just carried a brace of them like pirates if they needed quick multi-shot ability, and with multiples they’d be able to share with a friend.

        • tts

          Too slow to cycle them and it was probably assumed you’d have 2-4 guys armed with these things per team or group if need be too. Remember: they wanted rapid semi-auto-like fire capability for cheap. And for 1 guy this would be an awful lot of firepower to carry.

          I’m not saying your idea is bad or ineffective per se but its just not going to do the same thing.

    • Ebby123

      It would be, but this design is essentially a 4-shot semi-auto as I understand it. That would be plenty for guerilla fighters taking on a few sentries.

      • marathag

        back then, a JC Higgins 12 ga. pump retailed for $60 bucks at Sears, held six rounds.

        Parkerized, with a wire stock would be a lot cheaper.

    • demophilus

      IIRC, single shots and side by sides were already known to Vietnamese villagers. The idea was to give them more firepower, but not so much that it would be hard to face, if it were turned against us.

  • Alex Brown

    I think I’d be interested in a modern take on this shotgun. While a pump could probably be had for around the same price(or cheaper!), I’m attracted to the mechanical simplicity and potential for reliability while maintaining relatively rapid follow-up shots. I like the fact that it looks relatively easy to dust/sandproof. No exposed hammer, no exposed parts essential to firing. This would seem to point to a credible choice for a truck or survival firearm. Further, without a pump to operate, the probability of a user error would probably be diminished. The trigger looks to be beyond awful, but this wouldn’t be a claysmasher.

    • Tassiebush

      I was reading some of the links Daniel E Watters posted and the Winchester sales team used to bust clays with them! I would never have guessed that!

  • BryanS

    I dont have sound right now, but looks like they took a mossberg brownie pistol and scaled it up.


  • Nick

    A more refined version of the Metro Duplet (with 4 barrel mod). Sadly, I suspect a real life duplet would be of more use than these excuses to waste tax money.

  • Tassiebush

    Great links! I have always liked the grooves on the rotating striker much like a zigzag revolver!

  • Tassiebush

    Seems like a good idea. It would have given an illiterate 3rd world person a gun they could use effectively at close range which was probably the best range for the intended end user. We’re talking a user who probably wouldn’t even get to practice. It probably had a good chance of delivering a hit on target as well as rapid intuitive follow up shots and it was compact enough to hide and a design that should be able to handle poor treatment. The use of shotguns in south east Asia at the time also had plenty of recent real world precedent by irregular forces and in the Malayan emergency had really been shown to be the best weapon despite the well known shortcomings of shotguns. Nothing to break. Nowhere for debris to enter. No action to shortstroke and at the time hip and point shooting really was in vogue. Also it’s great to have an action where ammunition doesn’t have to feed so dodgy ammo could be used. Another consideration which really favours the use of a shotgun when considering weapons in the liberator camp is that most people globally are much more likely to have access to a small number of shotshells in a common cartridge than large amounts of military calibre pistol ammunition or high capacity mags. I must say I am often perplexed when people seem to think they’d get around a gun ban with a homemade subgun using glock mags.
    GeevIt’ll be great if anyone ever gets to test fire one to see how it actually performs.