The Springfield Armory “P90” (Hill submachine gun)

    So you think the FN Herstal P90 was revolutionary when it was released in the early 90s?

    Some (and that would include myself) may argue that the P90 still is revolutionary, but the inventor John L. Hill who worked for Springfield Armory would probably have told you otherwise.

    He’s got a great case as well, as he developed the Hill submachine gun concept already in the 1940s. However it would take him almost two decades before he built the first prototypes, but as you can see in the pictures there are a lot of similarities with the P90.

    Below: Colse-up of bolt going forward, feeding round into chamber. The charging handle is non-reciprocating.

    The Hill submachine gun uses a clear plastic magazine, either in single or double stack, and feds from the top of the reciever. I don’t know when clear plastic came around, but having a transparent magazine in the 50s must have been early. It look very similar to the transparent ETS magazines that were released just a few years ago.

    The ammunition was either 9×19 mm or .380 ACP, and the Hill fired only in full automatic.


    I don’t think this would make a great space gun, as it seems it needs gravity for it to successfully load the chamber.

    The text below reads:

    Springfield Armory – Ordnance Corps 4 Dec 1953

    Left: Bolt starting forward.

    Center: Rotation completed.

    Right: Round chambered and firing initiated.

    Source: “RECORDS OF THE SPRINGFIELD ARMORY : Records of the Research and Engineering Division Hill Submachine Gun, 9mm Bolt Starting Forward-Rotation Completed-Round Chambered and Firing Initiated

    Not the “Hill” logotype in the top of the picture.

    Below: Top view showing turntable feed with bolt in cocked position.

    Check out the high resolution image here.


    Did John L. Hill ever get to see the P90? He died at the age of 96 in 1991, so yes it is likely.

    I think the Hill submachine gun and the FN P90 is an excellent example of how ideas and products inspire others.

    Sources: Security Arms, Historical Firearms & Small Arms Review.

    Eric B

    Ex-Arctic Ranger. Competitive practical shooter and hunter with a European focus. Always ready to increase my collection of modern semi-automatics, optics and sound suppressors. TCCC Certified medic.