Experimental WWI Blowback Submachine Gun

    WWI was a time of runaway technology that in many ways outstripped the tactical and strategic thinking of the era. Older concepts of the dominance of technologies like the bayonet, and long-range rifle fire, and of the preeminence of the elan or morale of soldiers died hard as thinkers of the era struggled to integrate new weapons like machine gun and the long-range breechloading artillery piece into a theory of warfare that would give whomever found it first the winning edge.

    The result of this time of upheaval was the development of yet more weapons, such as the infantry mortar, flamethrower, and submachine gun that promised to break the stalemate and bring victory to whomever utilized them. Some such inventions went on to change or even revolutionize warfare, but some were all but forgotten after the war. One such weapon, featured in the video embedded below, was a submachine gun developed by William Andrews in the United States in 1918:


    The submachine gun as a concept would of course go on to a long career as a compact close quarters weapon system and a cheap, mass-producible solution to the problem of arming as many conscripts and volunteers as possible during the Second World War, but the unnamed submachine gun described in the video below has fallen into obscurity. Fed from a drum of ten 7-round single-stack pistol magazines, the .45 caliber weapon is evidently partly inspired by a 1911 handgun. While it’s unknown if the 70-round drum is automatically rotated after every 7-round magazine is depleted, the weapon does appear to have a mechanism located near the drum mount, which could be an automatic actuation device.

    It’s evident that the designer probably thought of the weapon less like a submachine gun as we know it today, and more of a fully automatic pistol – what we might now call a “machine pistol”. The gun lacks sights, a shoulder stock or any sort of foregrip; whether this was due to it being a demonstrator or whether it was really intended to be used as “trench-sweeper” used without sights or stock from the hip is unknown. With an early design like this, anything is possible!

    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. He can be reached via email at [email protected]


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