Made by the million and issued by the dozen. The service life of the FP-45 “Liberator”

    Given the growing fascination with crude 3D printed firearms, it may be worth looking into the original “Liberator” pistol.

    During WWII the Joint Psychological Warfare Committee sought a means to arm civilians in occupied territory, sowing panic and tying down more enemy troops.  They were meant to be air dropped by the thousands.  They would serve almost no purpose when captured by the occupiers but could be used for assassination, intimidation, and appropriation by guerrillas.  They should be powerful enough to kill in a single shot, small enough to conceal readily, and enough should be provided to make them essentially disposable.

    The resulting single shot, .45 caliber hand gun was made of steel pressings with a smooth bore barrel.  It could be reloaded but not quickly at all.  The entire project was classified and so the new guerrilla gun was titled “Flare-Projector 45”. Manufacturing was geared to provide millions if necessary and used crude but sturdy welding and riveting for assembly.  A contract was signed on May 15th, 1942 and by June 17th the 1,000,000 pieces were completed by the Guide Lamp plant.  Each pistol was packaged with 10 rounds of ammunition and a pictoral instruction sheet using no written language so that anyone, anywhere, could use the firearm.

    The original 1,000,000 pieces were to be shipped to British forces, but with the growing Sten production made the pistol less desireable and the order was halved. The other 500,000 pistols remained in the US.  50,000 were picked up by the Allied Intelligence Bureau and fell under MacArthur’s authority.  The remaining 450,000 were taken by the Office of Strategic Services.  Not all would remain in the country.

    So where did they go?

    500,000 were shipped to England.  If any of these were ever dropped or issued the records have not been found.  What became of them is uncertain.

    The O.S.S. turned over 100,000 pistols to the Sino-American Cooperative Organization which shipped them into India and later into Kunming.  There are sources that quote seeing the pistols in Chinese hands, although some claim most found their way to bandits and brigands.

    The Philippines
    After China, this seems to be the largest concentration of issued FP-45s.  MacArthur had taken several thousand into active service and we’ll cover those later, but over 40,000 were stored in Australia.  Some of these were carried over for Philippine guerilla use by Australian forces and earned the nickname “Kangaroo Guns” as the natives believed them to have been made down under.  Most seem to have been put to use post war by peace keeping forces or given out as souvenirs.

    Guadalcanal, Tulagi, New Caledonia
    MacArthur took 8,000 pistols for these territories.  His communications reveal he expected to distribute these to natives in order to help resist any Japanese activities.  If these occured in each territory, and to what extent is unknown.  From interviews it seems small numbers were dropped to friendly troops at odd intervals.  Many were traded or given away and caused confusion due to the lack of any markings or language.  They were often mistaken for crude Japanese pistols.

    The O.S.S. dropped limited numbers of the FP-45 along with agents in Greece during the war.  They may have also followed the O.S.S. into other field operations but these are not as clearly documented.

    More of MacArthur’s reserve in Australia were distributed by the little known Z-Force under the Australian Service Reconnaissance Department.  They were taken as part of a mission to train and arm some 6,000 natives living on Japanese occupied islands north of Australia.

    The rough little gun also saw service with the U.S. Army Intelligence Service (G-2) which may account for odd sightings in various parts of Europe.  Exact usage is unknown but would have been in very small quantities.

    To learn more about the origins of the pistol and its manufacture come on over to C&Rsenal.


    Othais is practically useless with modern firearms. That’s OK though, because he specializes in Curio and Relic military pieces and has agreed to decorate The Firearm Blog with a little history. He maintains his own site, C&Rsenal, with the help of his friends and the collector community.