American WWI Experimental SMG (Video)

Reader Larry sent me this video, which was produced by the US Army Ordnance Corp just recently. It’s a one-off experimental submachine gun built in 1918, and is definitely not something like you have seen before. In order to maintain commonality of ammunition and magazines, the gun uses standard M1911 7-round mags and ammo. You might wonder, how can one have a practical SMG with a 7-round magazine? Well, by making a turret of 10 magazines held together, of course!

I think we can all understand why it wasn’t put into production and service, but it sure is interesting. I would love to get some more information about it, like whether the turret automatically indexed or had to be manually repositioned after every 7 rounds fired.

52 Comments

    • Yeah. The director said it. It brought back the image of Kevin De Leon and his ’30 Caliber Magazine Clip in a Half Second’.

    • Regarding the whole clips/magazines thing, whilst “magazine” is technically correct, the terms have practically become interchangeable now. I’ve heard people in the military refer to mags as “clips” – it’s not as uncommon as you’d think, even with professionals. The only people who really are irritated by it are firearms buffs.

      • If you review the period 1911 military manuals you shall find that the magazines are labeled and given the nomenclature of clips! I believe that old man Mauser even differentiated his clips from the Mannlicher chargers, that is if my technical German served me well years ago. So maybe the M1 should have been called a en-block charge? Maybe that is reversed. Years ago reading original German manuals had different nomenclatures for the apparatus used in the Commission 88 type rifle and the Gewehr98.

    • “if completely impractical”
      In my opinion it might be considering to be used as a AFV (tank) machine gun, then the shape wouldn’t big disadvantage – short overall length can be useful in this purpose.

      • The revolving turret system seems a lot less practical than just making a longer magazine. They made extended mags for the automatic 1911 conversions, so I don’t see why they couldn’t have done it here. Not to mention the turret magazine must weigh an absolute ton.

        Besides, correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think the US Army even had tanks in 1918.

          • They also had the U.S./British MK VII aka “Liberty”, which was basically a MK IV Male with a longer hull and track assembly and a sort of “shed” on top with 4 x MGs in a setup like the British MK VI Whippet’s fixed casemate.

            The tank seen in the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was a mockup of a MK VII with the “MG shed” replaced by the 2-pounder turret of a British WW 2 Valentine infantry tank.

            AFAIK, no Liberties or British MK VIIs got into combat before Armistice Day. They did, however, hang on in service in both countries into the early 1930s, in their later years mainly as heavy-gun tractors.

            cheers

            eon

  1. I cringed when the woman (who should, most likely, know better) called the magazines clips!!!Interestingly enough John T Thompson’s first attempts at a sub gun looked much like this one here…sans, thankfully, the dumb-arsed magazine design…

  2. It reminds me of the “Streetsweeper” revolving shotgun Ian reviewed a ways back, but with the “turret” pivoted 90 degrees.

  3. While we’re all picking on the young lady in the video, I’ve gotta say she also referred to the ammunition as “bullets” rather than “cartridges” or “rounds”. Annoying.
    On the other hand, I’d love to have the job she’s got, getting to handle such rare weapons!!

    • Kurt said, “On the other hand, I’d love to have the job she’s got, getting to handle such rare weapons!!”

      Sorry Kurt but you don’t fit into the Politically Correct gender class under affirmative action. Now maybe if you had a sex change and claimed you feel like a minority….. 🙂

  4. Thomas & Musgrave’s book “The World’s Machine Pistols and Submachine Guns” has a photo and article about a similar design, with indexing magazines on a turret. It’s a different weapon from this one (British, if I recall correctly).
    Unfortunately, I’m away from my library at the moment, and can’t give more details.

  5. It’s not quite clear to me if this is truly a 70 round magazine or just a quick changer for 10 magazines. At least the way she’s putting it together I don’t see any spring mechanism that would advance the turret after each individual clip is empty.
    If it’s a working 70 round mechanism it might have had a chance as close-in weapon for early tanks, it’s relatively compact and might perform well in an enclosed space when supported near the muzzle.

    • That odd-looking barrel shroud could have been intended to be stuck out of a pigeon port in a rhomboidal tank.

      Yes, “pigeon port”. The early rhomboidals mostly didn’t have even code-key radios, so they carried carrier pigeons and had special ports, like pistol ports only big enough to get your hand and the bird through, on each side to “launch and retrieve” the messenger.

      Well, launch, anyway. I’ve always wondered if the birds would come back properly. What would they do, peck on the roof and then strut around on top until somebody opened a hatch?

      cheers

      eon

      • You could have a button somewhere which would trigger a “pigeon has returned” signal inside the tank. It would be fairly easy to train the returning pigeon to peck that with basic positive reinforcement…

  6. Good intentions gone into the dumpster again… This weapon, while a dead end because of the ammunition storage, does illustrate the need for compact automatic firepower on the move. I’m not sure if the absence of a drum magazine (which outdoes the turret mag tremendously) is due to patent trolls in the army, but I’m sure Dr. Gatling wasn’t around to sue anybody in 1918. And seriously, even the Fiat-Revelli’s multi-column magazine seems less ridiculous… Or am I wrong?

    • I think it’s more a case of the drum magazine as we know it just not having been thought of at that time.

      The nearest thing to it, other than the Trommelmagazin 08 for the Parabellum pistol,designed by Tatarek and von Benko in 1913 or so (plus its rifle-sized analogue for the Mondragon “Aviator’s Carbine” in 1915), was the Accles feed drum for the Gatling gun dating to the 1880s.

      Like pretty much every other Gatling feed setup, the Accles drum was a gravity-feed that worked by presenting vertical columns of cartridges to the breech, one at a time, by a rotating system inside its fixed outer casing. (Ian’s article shows its innards.)

      AFAIK, the drum magazine Thompson and company developed for the original “Trench Broom” was the first such magazine anywhere in the world. Drum magazines for other weapons ranging from the Russian PPD and PPSh SMGS clear down to the Ultimax 100 drum work on the same basic principle.

      The Thompson drums (“L” 50-round and “C” 100-round) were designed by Oscar V. Payne, apparently sometime around the middle of 1918;

      http://www.nfatoys.com/tsmg/tcn/2001/jul/jul01p4.htm

      So far, I haven’t found an actual patent on them. Considering the pre-existing Tatarek/von Benko design, they may never have been patented.

      cheers

      eon

  7. If the carousel arrangement had to be manually rotated then you have a self limiting 7 round burst feature. Not a bad idea on a SMG (compare with the Heckler & Koch 3 round burst fire trigger mechanism) which would be fired under the stress of close range battle.

  8. So if you get a 7 round burst, does slide/bolt assembly lock open, so you manually turn the carousel to the next mag, and release it to chamber a round from the next mag?
    What are the lanyard loops for on the base plates on the mags, or are these just military surplus?

  9. This concept seems strange now and it obviously didn’t catch on but I think that at the time it wasn’t so bad. Ideas like firing a volley still had a bit of currency, or had only recently been abandoned and a small portable gun that fired 10 separate 7round bursts certainly wouldn’t have been any worse than a trench gun if we ignore ergonomics and likelihood that indexing it was significantly slower. It could outperform a rifle on length and rate of fire and a shotgun on reliability (wet paper shotshells) and you could reload the thing while still being able to fire it. That’s my glass half full thoughts anyway.

  10. well for such a weird gun its a shame it was such an awful video. would have loved to see how this thing works.

  11. “the world of machine pistol and sub machine guns” quoted from a book called
    also during world war 1, in cleveland, william andrews, a gunsmith and a former officer of u.s. army ordnance, developed a prototype machine pistol.
    this caliber .45 weapon had a feed system on the turret principle, with ten standard 7-round pistol magazines arranged in a circle under the receiver.
    although this machine pistol apparently was able to perform creditably in firing tests, it had some obvious limitations.
    the turret arrangement resulted in a poor shape of the weapon, making it awkward for normal carrying.
    in full-automatic fire the dispersion must habe been considerable, as the caliber .45 cartridge develops substantial muzzle energy.
    the employment of the standard pistol magazine, seemingly an advantage, had its drawbacks.
    most pistol magazines are relatively lightly constructed and subject to deformation, particularly at the feed lips.
    in this instance the possibility of trouble of that type was increased tenfold, as the magazines were virtually unprotected when in the turret.
    the andrews machine pistol did not get beyond the prototype stage.

  12. I see lot of comments against this.
    But on a certain point of view, the concept of using existing standards ammo packaging into a medium to high capacity system is not new : machine gun development explored this possibility using rifle clips into hopper feeding systems.

  13. OK just to add more blovatum to the exchange, I have noticed French writers, albeit in translation tend to refer to all pistols as ” Revolvers ” Also refer to SMGs as “STENS & LMGs as “BRENS”. As far as American tanks of WWI go, we produced the Renault here BUT since the US had no capability to manufacture Armored Platte they were made of Boilerplate. I remember seeing one on display outside the Smithsonian in 1964. There was a small brass plate on the rear which said ” Mild steel for training purposes only”. Judging from pictures we gave a lot of them to the Canadians for training in 1939.

  14. sort of the american magazine ver of the Jap type 11 clip fed machine gun.

    It always amazed me that the type 11 worked as well as it did.

  15. Of course 1918 was the year John Thompson came out with the SMG that bears his name (He coined the term “Sub Machine Gun), and sadly for him he didn’t live long enough to see it deployed favorably in the next world war.

  16. How lazy were those engineers. They couldn’t be bothered to design a new gun so they just basically made a full auto 1911 with a bunch of mags strapped to it. They should have just called up John Browning. He would have had a whole new working prototype for them within a week.

  17. Let’s see:

    Option 1 – design a new magazine.

    Or

    Option 2 – Design an unwieldy manually revolving turret holding existing pistol magazines.

    Definitely Option 2, right?

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