Odd Guns: The M50 Reising Submachinegun

Alex C.
by Alex C.

Ah the Reising. If you are like me and constantly check NFA classifieds like Sturmgewehr and Subguns, then you definitely know that the price of the Reising is perhaps its most alluring feature. Deemed a “poor man’s Thompson” by most, the Reising is known but to a few gun enthusiasts and small arms aficionados for a multitude of reasons, albeit the gun is known above all else for one thing: sucking.

When the United States Marines fought the Japanese on the island of Guadalcanal, some were armed with M50 Reisings, and the gun entered service because it was available and could be produced quickly and cheaply ($50 compared to $200 for a Thompson) and the gun was very light for its day. The M50 is also reasonably accurate which can be attributed to its closed bolt operation (closed bolt submachineguns were a rarity until their proliferation in the 1970s and 80s). I tried to do some research, but I could not find a closed bolt SMG that predated the M50 Reising, but I hope a reader posts an earlier design below.

Reisings were issued with 12 or 20 round box magazines and had a high cyclic rate for what they are. The bolt actually locks unlike a blowback SMG too, allowing for a lighter yet faster firing gun. The U.S. Marines adopted the M50 in 1940 and most were issued to officers and NCOs (the M1 Carbine not yet available).

The Reising got its first taste of combat when 11,000 men from the 1st Marine Division landed on Guadalcanal. M50s and the folding stock equipped M55s saw action with Marine Raiders and paratroopers but legend has it that the Reising’s action was so unreliable in the sand and mud, that Lieutenant Colonel Merritt A. Edson (Commander, 1st Marine Raider Battalion) ordered that Reisings be tossed into one of Guadalcanal’s many rivers and had his troops instead use bolt-action Springfield 1903 rifles.The Reising’s complexity and sensitivity made it a popular choice for law enforcement however, who would not be putting them through the harsh conditions of Guadalcanal. As a result, H&R sold many to PDs and other law enforcement agencies across the country:

I think Phil is glad he had an MP5 instead! Very true Alex!-Phil

Knowing full well that this firearm has not earned a great reputation, I found a deal on one that was in the “too good to pass up” price range, where even if the gun kind of worked I would be happy.

I set out with my friends CJ and Patrick to see what this little guy could do. Unfortunately I only have aftermarket mags, but I do have a 20 rounder on order which I hope helps reliability. The following happened as we donated some lead to a nearby dirt pile:

So yeah that was a pretty rough shooting session, but I at least hope you enjoyed our banter and the 5% of the time where it actually worked!

The gun performed pretty poorly and I would have thrown it into a river as well if I could have gotten my hands on a nice, old fashioned Springfield 1903 but there are some redeeming qualities the gun has.

After a visit to the local machine gun testing area, we went to a local range to shoot some pistols and sight in some stuff. I decided to see if the Reising was at least accurate and set up a target at about 30 yards.

In semi the gun works well and my groups were good:

Sights are not bad on the rifle, but adjusting them is a bit odd:

It is also worth noting that the recoil is lower than you would think for a lightweight .45acp long gun. Not KRISS Vector light mind you, but as light as the much heavier Thompson.

A rare sight: An M50 Reising working.

All of our groups ended up being about the same, and I would deem this acceptable for any SMG from that time period:

So what are my final thoughts?

The Good:

  • Cheap
  • Easy to charge (handle under the stock)
  • Very pointable gun with a great length of pull and familiar handling characteristics (points like a 10/22)
  • Great cyclic rate
  • Accurate
  • Light

The Bad:

  • Magazine changes are very hard (that sucker is in there and the tab is hard to push/pull)
  • The trigger is really bad, being both heavy and creepy
  • Compensator susceptible to breakage

The Ugly:

  • Less reliable than a boosted Wankel engine
  • Field stripping takes a long time and there are parts to lose. Also, and this is in the manual, you are supposed to use the striker spring to retain the action spring!:
  • There are directional pins that can only be inserted and removed one way
  • Mags are very expensive ($100 and up)

So the Reising is overlooked for a few very good reasons as I have experienced first hand. Now I know that there are plenty out there that run 100% and the owners are happy with them, but I would say that the M50 was a poor military firearm to begin with by nature of the design. Small, easily lost parts, tight tolerances, and finicky magazines all contributed to this odd little gun being a mere footnote in history.

Thank you for reading the third installment of the “Odd Guns” series. Stay tuned for more!

Alex C.
Alex C.

Alex is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog and Director of TFBTV.

More by Alex C.

Join the conversation
2 of 60 comments
  • John John on Sep 19, 2014

    The bolt mechanism is AMAZING! Cycling the bolt while holding the rifle with both hands! That is an awesome idea! Who else does that??? It would nicer if it worked...

  • Anon. E Maus Anon. E Maus on Sep 24, 2014

    Well I'll say.
    I heard the Reising didn't have interchangeable parts for a lot of them, to speed up production, and it did seem to actually run a little bit better when oiled.

    Consider taking it apart and look at all the moving parts for any burrs or rough areas, and try and polish those up, alternatively also see if you can replace a spring or two. The aftermarket mag is also probably a contributor, so that should be considered.
    I have seen video of these things running reliably, so it's by no means impossible.