Submachine gun

From Academic Kids

A submachine gun is a firearm which combines the automatic fire of a machine gun with the ammunition of a pistol, and is usually between the two in weight and size. They were first experimented with in the form of stocked pistols being turned fully automatic in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The first dedicated designs were developed in the latter stages of WWI both as improvement on earlier stocked pistols, and to offer an advantage in trench warfare. They rose to prominence as a front-line and commando weapon during WWII, and are now widely used by police and paramilitary organizations. They are ideal for close-range combat in enclosed urban environments, where a weapon's range and accuracy is less important than the ability to easily and instinctively spray a target with bullets. They were also popularized in the 1920's and 30's as weapon of choice of gangsters. Submachine guns lack long-range power and accuracy, limiting their use in the open.


The submachine gun (sometimes called SMG) appeared during the later stages of WWI and was a product of trench warfare. By 1918 fighting in the trenches had become a clumsy and brutal art, involving grenades, pistols, sharpened entrenching tools, and bayonets; the German army in particular recognized the need for a short close-quarters firearm which could produce a large volume of fire. Initially, the standard-issue Luger pistols were equipped with large-capacity magazines, but by 1918 Bergmann had developed the MP18, the world's first purpose designed submachine gun to enter service, or 'machine pistol' as it was known. The MP18 was used in large numbers by the stormtroopers which were so effective in the final year of the war, although they were not enough to prevent Germany's collapse in November 1918. The Thompson SMGs had been in development at the same time and even earlier, but development went on hold in 1917, when the US and the weapon's designer entered the war. The design was completed afterwards and used a different internal system from the MP18, but it had missed its chance to be the first purpose-designed SMG.

In the inter-war years the submachine gun became notorious as a gangster weapon; the iconic image of zoot-suited James Cagney types wielding drum-magazine Thompson SMGs (often called "Tommy gun") caused some military planners to shun the weapon. It was was also used by the police, and many criminals favoured the BAR, It was nevertheless gradually accepted by many militaries, with many countries developing their own designs over the period, especially in the 1930's.

In the USSR, the PPD34 and PPD34/38, were developed. In France the MAS 35 was developed into the MAS 38. In Germany some improvements on the MP18 were employed, namely the MP28/II and the MP34. Also, Nazi Germany adopted the MP38, unique in that it had used no wood and a folding metal stock, though it used similar amount of stampings as the MAS.

During the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany in 1939, the MP38 production was still just starting and only a few thousand were in service, but it proved very popular especially in towns and cities. From it, the nearly identical, but safer and cheaper to make, MP40 was developed; about a million MP40's weree made in WW2. The MP40's design used even more stampings, and less important metals such as aluminium, but still managed to be lighter because it avoided the some of the heavier machined parts of the MP38.

Britain adopted the Lanchester submachine gun, based on the MP28/II, and from it, the much cheaper to make Sten series of guns. The Sten was so cheap to make that near the end of WWII, Nazi Germany made a few thousand of a copy of the design. Britain also used many M1928 Tommy Guns early on (the one of the intra-war period with a drum magazine), and also many of the improved version M1 (the one seen only with a stick magazine). After the war, the Sten would be replaced by the Sterling submachine gun.

America and its allies used the Thompson SMG, especially the simplified M1 version that did away with the Tommy's drum magazine and some of the machined parts. Because it was still expensive to produce, the M3 "Grease Gun" was adopted in 1942, followed by the the slightly improved M3A1 in 1944. The M3 was not necessarily more effective, but was made with cheap stamped metal, making it much more affordable. It could be configured to fire either .45 ACP ammunition, which the Thompson and M1911 pistol also fired, or 9mm, widely used internationally. It would be among the longest serving of the SMGs designed during of the war, being produced into the 1960s and serving in US forces officially into the 1980s.

By the end of WW2, the USSR had fielded the largest number of submachine guns, with whole infantry battalions being armed with little else. Even in the hands of conscripted soldiers just out of basic training, the volume of fire produced by massed SMGs could be overwhelming.

After WW2, the submachine gun's popularity in the military continued but began a slow decline, primarily being replaced by assault rifles, which filled a niche between the SMG and the battle rifle. However, they continued to be used significantly by police and special operations forces.


Following World War II, the role of submachine guns was greatly diminished with the introduction of modern compact assault rifles, such as the CAR-15 and Heckler und Koch HK53. Submachine guns are still used by special forces, air crews, armored vehicle crews, counter-terrorist units, and Naval personnel.

Submachine guns lend themselves to moderation with suppressors, particularly so in cases where the weapon is loaded with subsonic ammunition. The Sten, De Lisle carbine and modern-day Heckler und Koch MP5 have all been manufactured with quiet, integral silencers, and such weapons are favourites of special forces and police units.

Prominent recent examples of the submachine gun are the Israeli Military Industries Uzi submachine gun, the Heckler und Koch MP5 series, the Ingram MAC-10, the Skorpion, the Sterling and the FN P90 (itself part of a new generation of 'personal defence weapons', firing cartridges intermediate in power between a pistol and assault rifle round). A small number of pistols have been available in fully-automatic or burst-fire variants, such as the Glock 18, the Stechkin, the Beretta 93R and the Heckler und Koch VP70.


In the United States of America, submachine guns have been categorized as NFA weapons (also known as Title II weapons), so being because they are regulated under the National Firearms Act of 1934 and as amended by Title II of the Gun Control Act of 1968. NFA firearms can be legally owned only if state and local law permit it, all the proper paperwork is submitted and approved, and a one time tax of $200 is paid. Certain submachine guns have also been available in specially-modified semi-automatic form, with non-removable 16" barrels and receivers modified so as to prevent conversion into a fully-automatic firearm; in this case, the submachine guns are treated as rifles, and are not subject to further regulations beyond those required for ownership of a rifle.

In Europe, Switzerland allows the private ownership of semi-automatic submachine guns as sporting firearms. Fully automatic submachine guns may only be owned by collectors and may not be fired in fully automatic mode.

Compare machine pistol, carbine.

Famous Submachine Guns

See also

es:Subfusil he:תת מקלע nl:Submachinegeweer ja:短機関銃 pl:Pistolet maszynowy pt:Submetralhadora sk:Samopal fi:Konepistooli zh:冲锋枪


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