Evolution of the Submachine Gun: Three Distinct Generations

Submachine guns have gone through a distinct evolution over the past one hundred years. Today we will look at these changes, specifically identifying:

– 1st Generation guns from World War One and through the 1930s
– 2nd Generation guns of World War Two
– 2nd Generation guns after World War Two
– 2nd Generation guns adapter to modern polymer manufacturing
– 3rd Generations guns in the form of rifle actions scaled down to pistol calibers


    • Or the Linda Carbine? Tec-9? All those recently new designed B&T SMGs? The Steyr (now also B&T) TMP-9? Calico M960? Jatimatic? etc etc pp

      His grouping into generations is very imprecise. Why the insistence on putting WW2 and post WW2 into the saem generation, when clearly new desings with new features showed up in the 50ies? And we have kind of a renaissance of the SMG at the moment, because shooting a shorty 5,56 inside a house is no fun at all.

  1. I do not remember the books that I read that covered sub-machine gun history (mostly by Ian V Hogg) mentioning ‘generations”, beyond possibly talking about the first generation. At that time telescopic bolts and magazines in handles were seen as massive step forward in a still important weapon.
    I do not know if defining a 3rd generation by the MP5 is an original thought from Ian, but it does make sense. The only advantage it leaves simple blow-back is possibly cost and cost is not very important for many militaries now. There are 2nd Gen submachine guns being made but I cannot think of a major military power that uses a lot of them after China.

    • I’ve generally seen the telescoping bolt / mag-in-grip SMGs described as Gen 3, and the MP5 etc. as Gen 4. There are certainly more practical differences between the Uzi and the WWII guns than between Gens 1 and 2 – which (as Ian’s Beretta example demonstrates) are functionally identical, but with manufacturing simplifications.

      • There’s more to it. 1st gen SMGs were thought to be used as scaled down machine guns. So they are heavy, often have high capacity magazines and have long barrels. The 2ng generation SMGs are more of an automatic carbine, or a forerunner of the assault rifle.

        • I understand that, and wasn’t denying that Gens 1 and 2 are different – just stating that a Gen 1 user picking up a Gen 2 would find a crude, but generally familiar piece; whereas a Gen 3 has a different manual of arms, possibly half the length and substantial weight difference, etc.

      • I do see that Mike, and I would have thought that (if I was forced to think about it) before seeing this video: but now I have seen it I cannot think of a reason why the telescopic bolt and magazine in handle could not have been made in WWII.

        The Sa vz. 23 was made in 1948 and Wikipedia doesn’t say when development start in Czechoslovakia, but I would take a bet that they’d have had it in service in the early 40’s if Hitler had not been given the region with the gun actors by the UK and France.

        After seeing this video I now think there is a much bigger jump between pre-MP5 submachine guns and the MP5, than between the any WWII sub gun and the Sa vz. 23. I cannot see anyone making the MP5 before the mid 60’s. But the Czechslovakians might have made the Sa vz. 23 in the early 40’s if the Allies had stood up for them. Also: telescopic bolts &c are massive improvements, but only for a kind of gun that only armies with out of date rifles needed by the 60’s. If you need a sub gun now, event the blow backs are closed blots, mostly.

        • Remembering memories I read from author of samopal vz.23, he mentioned that “all of ideas were claimed out” at time he was creating his design. I do not know what he meant by that specifically, but I know that the type he presented (magazine in handle) had its predecessor – it was a German prototype of subgun which was never put into production. To find an “original” solution to anything is a tough feat indeed.

          • “(…) know that the type he presented (magazine in handle) had its predecessor – it was a German prototype of subgun which was never put into production.(…)”
            This might be pun intended against Walther prototype from 1917 year – see 1st image from top: https://raigap.livejournal.com/463623.html
            though not at virtue of magazine placement but moving parts around barrel.
            It should be noted that 1940s designers were aware of automatic pistol, so I would say that put magazine in grip was not unexpected reaction to “make full-auto, pistol-caliber, shorter than sub-machine gun we already have”. So such layout became appearing through world – for example in MCEM-2, Rukavishnikov (1942) https://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2018/06/19/rukavishnikov-experimental-submachine-gun/ Gatenby https://guns.fandom.com/wiki/Gatenby_gun

          • I must try to remember the Rukavishnikov prototype! Looks like one of the first cases of the magazine in the pistol grip, the telescoping/ overhanging bolt, the use of slide-like grasping grooves to manipulate the bolt (Mexican Mendoza and briefly produced Madsen m/45 also used this, arguably the finger slot of the U.S. M3A1, etc. had this feature) and heck, the “arm brace” too! All of the elements of the “Third gen.” produced in the dark days of 1942! Just never actually manufactured and issued… The ideas were out there…

        • Bradwan,
          You raise a lot of good points! It’s true that Uzi-type subguns COULD have been built with the technology of WWII. In fact, I’ve always found it strange (and mentioned it here a time or two) that no one seems to have come up with a “Gen 2.5” by simply putting a grip on the magwell of something like the STEN, a buttplate behind the receiver, and a wraparound trigger (already in use for 50 years by that time).

          On the other hand, for historical purposes it’s best to stay with “dids” instead of “could haves” – because let’s face it, there’s no real reason why someone couldn’t have built a STEN before the [vastly more complicated] Henry or Spencer! While probably impractical with blackpowder, the design itself was certainly feasible with mid-19c tech, and would have been perfectly viable with the rimless, smokeless cartridges of the 1880s at the latest.

          I’m not sure why you “cannot see anyone making the MP5 before the mid 60s”, considering that the Germans made its roller-delayed (and -locked) predecessors for much more demanding cartridges in the 40s.

          I agree with you on the superiority of closed-bolt for certain purposes, but (as an “envelope” / proportionality fanatic) I can’t stand the current trend toward rifle-size PCCs, and would like to see someone combine Gen 4 tech with the ergos and compactness of Gen 3.

          • Daweo,
            As always, you’re a treasure trove of rare information – thanks!

            I can imagine that rejection conversation: “Cook, you fool! Don’t you realize that a pistol-caliber carbine needs to be three feet long, weigh 13lb, and cost as much as five Garands?!”

          • Although it only being a prototype. The Japanese Nambu type 1 is an example of a grip on a magwell.

          • “(…)only being a prototype. The Japanese Nambu type 1(…)”
            Modern Firearms suggest they were actually used https://modernfirearms.net/en/submachine-guns/japan-submachine-guns/nambu-model-1-eng/
            Apparently, small numbers of these submachine guns were manufactured by Nambu factory and used by Japanese Marine units in China in around 1937.
            In 1938 it was considered by British as weapon for vehicle crews, but was turned down as using untypical cartridge:

          • I do not see an (huge or even any) improvement that Uzi or Vz.23 bought against for example Sterling, other than being slightly compact.

            As for vz.23 fantasy of being made in early 40s, again, what good would that do, and in what regard would armies fielding one be superior to some others?

          • Storm,
            Agreed – but then, the Sterling and Uzi were contemporaries, 50s guns incorporating lessons learned from WWII rather than wartime expedients. Both, of course, were much more compact than some Gen 2s with mags at the front and grips at the rear of huge tube receivers.

            I agree with your second statement as well, as I noted in my comment about “dids” vs “could haves”.

          • As of ww2 curiosity, and what could have been, there was Bechowiec polish underground smg, that was basicly like an oversized pistol, bolt was a slide, even firing from closed bolt having hammer, maybe (or probably) the first smg ever to do so.
            Talk about being avantgarde!

            I’m too often puzzled how gun design with development of technology branched to perfection by best designs being less and less complicated, instead of more (kudos to Browning, but…)
            Which ends in paradox that they in 1880s theoretically could make (mechanically functioning) everything we have today sans plastic parts – even aluminum receivers.

          • There is definitely a school of design that either throws more and more [failure-prone] complex trinkets at potential issues (often of the designer’s own creation), and/or adds complexity simply due to the designer’s infatuation with his own cleverness. I, on the other hand, agree with you that the elegance of simplicity is true progress.

            Both the Polish SMG you mentioned and their later PM-63 are fairly rare in recognizing the obvious SMG applicability of the familiar slide, with no need for a superfluous upper receiver.

          • Polish pm63 has unsettling feature of the bolt slide recoiling towards your face, when shouldered, maybe theres no danger, but still one is probably feeling a bit unsafe.

            Fortunately there is mexican Mendoza smg that perfected that bolt slide recoil arrangement with topcover, latest models even cover the front, muzzle area.

          • Definitely unsettling, and probably unsafe at least for some, considering that a PDW is (more or less by definition) issued to the sort of troops whose primary skillset is something other than small arms.

            Fortunately also very easily solved by an extension of the lower like the Mendoza you mentioned, or even the MAC (a few tabs of thin welded sheetmetal, but completely effective at keeping the shooter’s face off the recoiling mass).

  2. Defining the difference between Gens 1 and 2 as “quality” manufacturing always reminds me of the handcarved wooden chains one sees at craft or ethnic festivals. I admire the carvers, and would admire a craftsman who could do that with metal even more – but no knowledgeable designer, engineer, plant manager, or customer would ever SPECIFY that method for any practical purpose.

    Likewise, once one recognizes that the receiver of a blowback SMG is an unstressed, non-pressure-bearing tube, the absurdity of milling it from barstock becomes self-evident – all the more so when managing scarce strategic resources in a struggle for national survival, with troops dying and civilians eating sawdust bread.

    It’s not that I blame Schmeisser or the WWI acquisition types (any more than I fault the Wright Brothers for building what was, by 2020 or even 1920 standards, an objectively awful airplane). It’s just that folks should have known better by WWII – and they sure as hell should today!

    • “(…)just that folks should have known better by WWII(…)”
      It should be noted that in 1930s and early WWII sub-machine gun was still considered weapons with narrow usage niche. As such size production excepted to full-fill needs was estimated at lower number than experience of that conflict. Remember that:
      For example, the very technically advanced Heer (Hitler’s Army) issued MP-38 and MP-40 submachine guns to infantry troops in proportions of about one SMG per ten bolt action rifles.

  3. Based on the books I’ve read, I had always thought of 3rd Generation guns as having telescoping bolts. Ian alluded to them by mentioning the
    Samopal 24/26 and the Uzi. Don’t you think the benefits and engineering behind this innovation deserves to be called Gen. 3?
    The resulting compactness was a great leap forward for this type of weapon.

  4. After a pause I feel compelled to quip in.
    First thing: I cannot see anything what can be called “generations” with clear borderlines. I only see a continuous “adoptive” development.

    What comes out of post 2.world-war developments, I’d call it a “sophistication” period. The SMGs of that period added new and unseen before features (telescoping breeches, double-mode – double-action triggers, smart safeties, recoil mitigating mechanisms, novelty magazines etc.) They are definitely NOT cheap, made-on-demand solutions. Makers are far ahead what potential customer’s can ask for – they are at the lead.
    Here is one example, right from Ian’s own page.

    Other than that I appreciate Ian’s effort. Greetings to all participants/ readers!

  5. It ought to be mentioned that a lot of these SMGs (“machine pistol” in European parlance, because they shot pistol ammunition, and “machine carbine” in British usage, not a bad description) were sold to nations fighting small wars in South America, notably Colombia v. Ecuador in the 1920s and the Gran Chaco War in 1932. I am surprised, nay, shocked, to hear that NYPD bought Steyr-Solothurns. Were they cheaper than Thompsons?

    The big postwar development, sort of Generation 2.5, was moving the magazine to the pistol grip in conjunction with the development of the overhung bolt, thus sort of fulfilling the “machine pistol” terminology. This in the service of compactness.

    A sidelight here is the dead-end development of pistols into machine pistols: the Astra, Star, and Royal full-auto Mauser Broomhandle copies and then the genuine Mauser Broomhandle copy of the Spanish copies. Which teaches that you need a slow rate of fire or a small cartridge to make a useful light automatic weapon, the Czech Skorpion being the only viable result of this line.

    Three cheers for the M3A1, the ugly duckling better and more durable than it had any right to be, still serving with armies seventy years after the end of production and fifty years after the end of expected service life, not unlike the Jeep, the GG1 locomotive, and my mother’s 1966 Chevelle.

    • “(…)Which teaches that you need a slow rate of fire or a small cartridge to make a useful light automatic weapon(…)”
      This seems to be conclusion which designers of SCAMP:
      took from experimenting with full-auto-izing of various automatic pistol. SCAMP did used own .22 caliber bottle-neck cartridge.

  6. I really like the 3rd Generation definition. Taking up Ian’s invitation to comment, IMHO 2nd Generation would benefit from an extra sub-division for designs that located significant bolt mass around or over the barrel (Uzi, Beretta 12, Walther MPK/L etc) thereby reducing size without compromising controllability.

  7. Dear IAN,
    This is a great “big picture” over-view of SMG development.
    Has anyone done a cost comparison on the different manufacturing methods?
    Machined MP-18, M3 Grease Gun, machined MP5 and polymer Mini-Uzi?
    To simplify comparison, you can stick with 2020 shop rates.
    We also have to consider the cost of specialized tooling (e.g. stamping dies) – that can only be used on this SMG – versus the overall cost of the big automotive stamping machine.
    Given that they all need a precise barrel, how does that affect the overall coast?
    er … what percentage of the cost of an SMG is the barrel? … trigger group? … receiver? … stock? … magazine? … etc.

    I ask this question from the perspective of parachute harness/container manufacture where 40 percent of the total cost is removeable parts like handles, risers, deployment bags, etc.

    Thanks again.

    • I think that by far the least expensive and least resource and labor intensive SMG designs have been 1) The Sudaev PPS-43, 2) The Sten Mk.III with a sheet steel receiver bent around a mandrel at the Tri-Ang toy factory of Lines Bros., Ltd./ some of the German Gerät Neumünster MP.3008 Volksmachinepistole designs, which took the Mk.III into the direction of welding steel fillets along the side to separate the remaining slot into a bolt raceway and an ejection port, 3) The M3A1 Grease Gun, principally due to streamlined, stamped production. Had the allies been able to agree on 9mm and a better magazine, a U.S./Canadian/British/Chinese/French 9mm SMG might have been über cheap indeed, no?

      It is at least worth noting that the Chi-nats made copies of the M3A1 and Sten designs, and the Chi-coms also kept the barrel rolling, so to speak, on a Sten design that eliminated the single-shot selector. For sheer numbers and scale of production, I’d think the PPSh-41 Shpagin and its various off-shoot copies like the Type 49 or Type 50, etc. would get an honorable mention for sheer cheapness of manufacture, even if edged out of the top three spots.

      • “(…)Gerät Neumünster MP.3008 Volksmachinepistole designs, which took the Mk.III into the direction of welding steel fillets along the side to separate the remaining slot into a bolt raceway and an ejection port,(…)”
        There was also at least 1 “STEN but cheaper” approach. Namely

        sub-machine gun, see 2nd photo from top: http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/International_Ordnance_MP2
        I am wondering how it does compare cost-wise to MP.3008?

        • That’s a gun from the 1970s? Not actually designed for use in, you know, warfare, or perhaps even police operations…? No stock, limited control, basically a “bullet hose”–strikes me as more of a “because we can” proof of concept rather than a viable SMG. There was at least one U.S. prototype SMG that was rejected that had .45acp or 9mm capability, with the extra barrel serving as the rudimentary butt-stock… Crazy high rate of fire and lack of reliability apparently doomed it, but the concept was certainly viable.

          If we go to non-military SMG designs, then allow me to give a big “honorable mention” to the Brazilian Uru SMG as being very, very cheap and utterly simple. Certainly the Danish Madsen M50/M53 clam shell receiver 9mm gun should be on the “short list” no?

        • MP2 feels like an effort to simplify the Ingram type weapon to the max, not Sten, as Sten is useful- this with its high rate of fire, no stock, is only viable inside a telephone, or crapper (lol) booth.
          For smaller scale production company this could be cheaper as you do not need dies for upper receiver, like you need for Uzi or Mac, and bolt,trunnion, barrel etc. can be turned on a lathe, as producers probably did not have the technology for steel casting – which gives cheap components but 1st investment is huge, just like with stamping dies. Someone correct me if I’m wrong but I feel casting without subsequent machining is slightly more suitable for square objects (like Uzi/Mac bolt). Also, one reason Glock chose such a squareish slide is due to lower machining costs.

          Maybe if they “invented” it a decade earlier and stick Sionics type of suppressor on barrel, it would have been more popular, but still there would be 0 contracts from militaries or police agencies, just like with Ingram.

      • Grease gun was by far most cost and production effective smg, but maybe it was not if you include the fact that probably usa workers were better paid than soviet ones (who maybe werent paid at all).
        By quality and reliability, I’d say pps43 comes before sten mk.3

        Brits even experimented with single stamping Sten body, akin to swedish K (lower receiver part of the upper), but it was too weak and thus rejected. Hope Ian does a vid…

    • A quick and dirty cost comparison. These are US government prices paid, rather than manufacturing costs:
      Around $45 for the M1A1 Thompson.
      Around $21 for the M3 Grease Gun.

  8. I find the idea of numerical “generations” to be a poor analogy as it implies a linear progression that isn’t justified by actual history. Instead we see an evolution of manufacturing techniques which are paralleled by those seen in other types of firearms.

    The early SMGs used the same sort of design and manufacturing technology as used by rifles. They used machined parts with wooden furniture as integral parts of the system.

    The use of rifle technology was very likely to a large degree driven by economics. Production lines for SMGs could be set up using the types of machines and processes already installed in arsenals.

    Later designs were greatly simplified to use what was by then state of the art metal stamping technology. The very large numbers required for WWII made investment in the tooling and the stamping and welding equipment economically justifiable.

    Post-WWII SMGs continued with more refined versions of stamped manufacturing technologies, driven by the need to equip the mass conscript armies of Cold War era Europe at an affordable cost.

    Post Cold War SMG designs have had to deal with more market changes, as mass conscript armies have largely been replaced by much smaller professional armies, plus a general decline in the use of SMGs by militaries altogether.

    As a result SMGs designs have switched to focus more on police, anti-terrorism, and other internal security markets. This means more use of PIM (plastic injection moulding) to reduce fixed investment costs (less assembly and welding equipment required because more can come out of the mould in one piece), and a greater emphasis on semi-auto accuracy (hence the use of closed bolt operation in many newer guns). Some designs are just adaptations of rifles, which lowers investment costs by allowing the use of many off the shelf parts, even if the receiver itself has been scaled down.

    The above however shouldn’t been seen as a linear progression. There’s nothing in the above which precludes the different types co-existing with one another, provided they are addressing different market segments.

    Marketing departments love the use of “generations” when describing products, as controlling the language used limits the scope of discussion into accepting that your “second generation” product is obsolete and must be replaced by the new “third generation” product.

  9. Shame that they doesn’t have a PPS-43. Possibly a best SMG of WWII, definitely an SMG with the best price-performance ratio.

    • PPS is just disposable garbage, designed for a very short period of life of an average Soviet soldier in battle.
      Which (even in spite of about half the cost) was never able to squeeze the PPSh. Which to that has never been a role model in all respects.
      A sort of Russian STEN.
      The only difference is that STENs (made using normal technology) are quite decent weapons.
      And the PPS, regardless of the place and time of production, remains a fragile rattle with mediocre performance.

      • In the really existing Soviet-German War, the PPS was developed within a large kessel or cauldron, namely by the cut off pocket of Leningrad. The design went through several iterations before adoption as the Sudaev PPS43, and it was found to be industrially much more efficient than the PPSh41 of Shpagin. But by the time the siege was lifted, the production of the Shpagin had, shall we say, proliferated to the point that it was nigh inconceivable to contemplate “phasing it out” although one will note that like the Sten, its use postwar was mostly in allied or proxy states rather than in the metropolis–UK or USSR.

        All Generation 2 SMGs, i.e. the mass-produced quasi-disposable gun for mass armies–the “war of military Fordism” (with some Albert Speer and various Soviet officials tossed in) could be classified as “disposable garbage.” The fact that the barrel cannot be replaced on the Sten Mk.III or the various ill-starred Gerät Neumünster MP.3008 designs attests to that. In fact, when the Sten first came out, the Germans studied it in the “primitivwaffen” program and concluded that issuance of such mass-produced quatsch would be injurious to morale– Fritz could only conclude he was disposable as the weapon he was issued! And, it must be said, that precisely that happened in British and Canadian forces upon issuance of the Sten(ch) gun… Reactions were decidedly, shall we say, mixed?

          • Yes, the Geraet Potsdam was a slavishly exact copy of the Sten Mk.II, huge numbers of which had been seized by German forces from supplies dropped to Resistance organizations, and from Allied losses. Many things remain rather mysterious about the “Potsdam” including copying markings… Some, or perhaps Sten guns, did turn up in the caches intended for the “Werwolf” Nazi underground, which was mostly quickly dismantled by the allies.

        • Its true germans mocked publicly Sten and Brits fielding it (something along the line of germ.soldiers will never be armed with such junk, maybe even said by mr.H.), but I dont think it solely was examined in primitivwaffen program, they had another examples in that (erma emp44 which was supposedly rejected due to bad morale influence), so here you mixed up two or several facts or even factoids.

        • After being adopted, the PPS went through even more iterations. In an attempt to get rid of worms.
          Including not only in the USSR, also in Poland, East Germany, Finland…
          Everywhere with the same (no) result.
          All attempts to adapt this scheme for the new M43 cartridge ended in the same way.

          Like STENs, they were worn as soon as they could, and presented to everyone they could.
          But even for non-military armed guards in the USSR itself (who did not often have to shoot), they preferred to use the much more durable and durable PPSh. Although it is much longer and heavier.
          Until the end of the century, when they began to issue old AKMSs.
          And “even” the Vietnamese preferred to set up an imitation of the PPSh instead of the “much more convenient reliable, simple, cheap and effective” PPSh.

          The Chinese held out the longest. Perhaps because they received from the USSR sets of equipment and technological documentation for production.
          At that time, the USSR was undergoing a global rearmament to prepare for a war with NATO. Therefore, production kits were willingly presented to all “friends”. Especially considering that in the USSR itself they did not plan to use all this old rubbish.

      • I have seen PPS43 on Polish border guards in early 60s. My thought was along the same line: “what a garbage”. I was conditioned seeing vz.23 and following types, of course.

        • “(…)seeing vz.23(…)”
          Stop immediately. It is Vz. 48b. Do not attempt to make post-war sub-machine gun look to be pre-war if you want to get fair result.

          Soviets did compare CZ 47 against their PPS:
          in both cases folding stock and fixed wooden stock were compared. Wooden-stock PPS was prototype weapon, which already was well worn before firing trials started so it was dropped from tests. Regarding folding stock version, in area of weight Soviet and Czechoslovak proved close, it was noted that Czechoslovak weapon is greatly shorter yet have longer barrel – 460 mm vs 618 mm and 285 mm vs 250 mm (length folded vs length folded and barrel length vs barrel length).
          Bullet spread @ 100 m proved much bigger in Soviet weapon – 45 cm vs 16,8 cm (single shots) and 52 cm vs 25,3 cm. Similarly result were taken to distances up to 400 m. Conclusion was that Czechoslovak weapon has lesser spread due to:
          1) lower velocity of moving parts (almost twice)
          2) lower (62-77 rpm less) Rate-of-Fire
          3) lack of powerful hit of moving parts when going into forward most position.
          Regarding reliability Soviet weapon was found bit better though Czechoslovak was not much worse, excepting fat grease*. Czechoslovak weapon did fired 10400 rounds, until main problem, which is good result. Finally recommendation was that: It is worthwhile to make our design bureaux familiar with Czechoslovak weapons.

          * – one of the trials thrown at soviet weapons, it is done by applying a lot of grease.

      • “(…)Which (even in spite of about half the cost) was never able to squeeze the PPSh.(…)”
        Nonetheless it was made in Polish People Republic until 1955 and even spawned two offspring – namely PM wz. 43/52 and .22 rim-fire sub-machine gun.

        “(…)Which to that has never been a role model in all respects.(…)”
        There was some play of various group of influence and PPS production
        was authorized by People Commissar of Mortar Weaponry of USSR, not as in case of most guns People Commissar of Armaments. Then production started at plants which were under command of People Commissariat of Machine Building, People Commissariat of Shipbuilding Industry and People Commissariat of Railways.

  10. Same evolution may also be applied to all man carriable firearms… Rifles, carabins, machine pistols and pistols… Rising technology, material knowledge, human comfort and manufacturing costs all form the firearms construction and lay out… Have a look yesterday’s rifles pistols and etc. and today’s… It is a non stop development… IMHO…

    • Just want to back up some others here. 3rd Gen SMGs have overhead bolts and mags in the pistol grip. 9mm rifles like MP5 and Colt SMG are 4th Gen.

    • I agree with your view – it is ongoing development regardless of artificially created generations. It is consistent with what I suggest in one of my previous write-ups.

      It (the progress) is driven by available manufacturing technologies, mere than anything else. Customer is just pointing finger: “I want this”.

      • “It (the progress) is driven by available manufacturing technologies, mere than anything else. Customer is just pointing finger: “I want this”.”
        Was does that mere than anything else (not more) mean?

  11. Strange classification.
    If you follow it, you get the number of classes, approximately equal to the number of manufacturers.
    For example, Class 148A1, SMG MP5 with a folding stock. 😉

    IMHO An attempt to classify by purpose looks noticeably more rational.
    1st generation – early service appointments.
    2nd generation – mass service purpose. Manufactured using simplified technology.
    3rd generation – normal (modern) service.
    4th generation – civil castrates and other miscarriages for masturbation (modern top of the bottom).

  12. Ian, you mentioned that submachine guns were outlawed by the Versailles Treaty (linked below). I am not sure that is actually correct. Articles 1 of Treaty (Tables II and III of Part IV Chapter 2 at page 122) details the number and type of formations the army were allowed to have. Then includes the number of rifles, carbines, machine guns, mortars and artillery the army could retain in each of those formations. The Treaty also lays down ammunition stocks and reserves of armaments. It makes no mention of submachine guns at all, or indeed the number of pistols for that matter. Given this I would argue there was no provision that outlawed the army’s possession of them. I don’t know why they were not retained and held. I think the most likely answer is – like other armies at the time – they just didn’t think they needed any.

  13. Generations?

    Which generation would a gun with the following features best fit into?

    Delayed blowback action, but firing from an open bolt,

    Firing a cartridge with less recoil than 9mm P,

    Despite firing from an open bolt, it has a fast lock time, enabling the first shot to be fired faster than most open bolt guns.

    Is a “generation” a procrustian bed, that no idea (a gun is someone’s idea) actually fits into, and has to be butchered and distorted in order to fit into.

    My personal preference would be to think in terms of fashions and paradigms rather than “generations”

    And to leave ideas of the progress of material productive factors to the marxoids and their dialectical materialism mumbo jumbo

    • Its not just lock time, but upsetting the balance of the receiver.
      I also think that overall ergonimics play a part, meaning that Uzi mag in grip in the center style gun would maybe have more movement than classic mp18 and such rifleish handling guns. Also if the bolt is short and fat, or very long, its weight etc.

      However, I did hear from a user, that for example Crvena Zastava m49/57 is exveptionally precise in single shot, as its bolt is fairly close to the magazine. But also, bolt is very long (compare it to Sten), plus its a rifleish stock configuration.

  14. I would submit that Generation 3 should be reserved for guns using something other than straight blowback, thus throwing the AR-9 into the post-war Gen 2 – a straight blowback submachine gun which is using an existing manufacturing line to reduce cost – as has been pointed out, much like the German/Austrian Gen 1 guns made in existing rifle arsenals. Thus the 3rd generation guns in my classification would be the HK MP5 series, as well as 2x AR-9s – SIG’s MPX & CMMG’s radial delayed blowback system.

  15. FN P90 is an odd bird that is too potent to be classified as an SMG, but not potent enough to be an assault rifle.
    P90 fires a specialized cartridge 7.5 x 28 mm) that is more powerful than regular than pistol ammo (9 x 19 mm NATO), but not as potent as assault rifle ammo (5.56 x 45 mm NATO).
    P90’s nearest competitor is the American M1 carbine in .30 calibre intermediate length, again less potent than assault rifle ammo.
    PS90 ammo fires Spitzer bullets from bottle-necked cartridges that have rebated rims … far more sophisticated than most military or police issue pistol ammo.
    P90 is primarily designed as a “vest-buster” for police to kill criminals who wear Kevlar bullet-proof vests.

  16. “Generations” is a simplified way to describe a process that has evolved over the last century.
    “First Generations”, WW1 SMGs (e.g. MP18) were build by the same methods as infantry rifles had been built for hundreds of years. They were all second-grade wood, and polished brass fittings and expected to last for 100 years.
    “Inter-war generation” SMGS were just refined versions of “First Generation.

    “Second Generation” WW2 SMGS hit the low point of quality and manufacturing cost. Long Branch Arsenal was making Sten Mark III for only $8! Fortunately, Canadian quality was better than British Sten Mark I or II, so they were reasonably reliable guns.

    “Third Generation” took lessons-learned during WW2 and eliminated the worst flaws.

    “Fourth Generation” conversions from assault rifles were just another attempt to simplify production in factories that were already making assault rifles (e.g. M-forgeries). No-one would tool up a factory to only make 4G SMGS. 4Gs are primarily aimed at police who want to out-gun gangsters but avoid collateral casualties in neighboring apartments. Cheap sheet-rock walls – in most modern apartments – are ridiculously easy to over-penetrate with assault rifle ammo.

  17. The most obvious evolutions is in the MP18 to Lanchester to Sten to Sterling line in Britain. Each version was simpler and lighter and less expensive to produce. Sterling corrected weaknesses in Sten and is the last in that line.

    • Good idea to note the particular trajectory within a single nation’s industry, e.g.:

      USA: Thompson—> too much money!—> simplify it?–> M1 and M1A1 Thompson –> still too much money! —> OK, how about the M2 Hyde?–> great idea?–> Here’s another Hyde design, the M3, which is even cheaper!–> great idea!—> Here’s an M3A1 after we’ve gotten the bugs worked out of the M3 design… So Thompson Gen. 1, M1/A1 as what? 1.5? M2? 1.5? M3A1 2…

      Of course, the U.S. also has the carbine program–> as long as we are replacing pistols with carbines, since no one can hit anything with a pistol, why not replace SMGs too? Didn’t happen. Also, the many “also rans” like the UD42 SMG doled out to various groups in the Balkans or elsewhere in Europe.

      USSR–> PPD–> PPSh41 –> PPS-43 –PPSh41 –> Kalashnikov

      Germany–? MP.18,I–> MP.28,II–>ERMA/Bergmann/MP36 prototypes & commercial variants all Gen. I, then MP38/MP40 Gen. II–>adoption of MP2-Uzi by Bundeswehr Gen. III/ PPSh41 & Polish PM-63 by NVA Gen. II and III. MP5 by German police and terrorists like RAF (even the insignia or logo of the group!) and StG44/ Kalaschnikow/ AK74SU by DDR (a Gen. IV? shorty hyper-velocity, small-caliber, assault-rifle… HK MP7 PDW… a new “submachine gun” that is neither fish nor fowl?

      France–> tons of experiments, proto-assault rifle and SMGs, 9mm or 7.65mm L, MAS-38 (first), Thompson (first) Sten/MP40 (second), MAT-49 (second or third, I wonder?) police use of M12 Beretta (third), MP5 (third or fourth?), various carbines and rifles… HK UMP to replace Beretta at some future point… Relegated to a particular niche.


    • Its like a family in which Sten seems like a kid that ended up slightly retarded, or how they say in H&K, “delayed” 🙂

  18. Sort of … dear Storm,

    Sten was so crude because Britain was so desperate. The British Expeditionary Force had just abandoned most of their weapons at Dunkirk and they expected German paratroopers to invade England next week.
    Suddenly, stuffy old staff officers – who called Thompsons “undignified gangster guns” – were demanding ANY fire arm as quickly and as soon as possible. Sten Mark I were crude, but each successive generation fixed weaknesses while also simplifying manufacture. By 1944, Sten Mark V could afford the luxury of wooden furniture.
    Just goes to show that too many nations only change their ways during times of crisis.

    • Of course, I’ve stated it long time ago here on comments about some video, regarding wartime arms priority,
      one of reasons for Germans downfall was that they, let me take a poetic example, were producing, for example instead of a trucks or buses to carry as many people as possible, mercedes-benz that could carry only 4.
      And there were countless resource soaking projects that gave little results, crown being V2 (one rocket more expensive than making several Tigers), costed more than Manhattan project, and strategically achieved nothing.

      However, it should be noted that lot of these Stens, or even vast majority of, never seen any battle, nor were instrumental in the overall victory (compared to the german small arms that they instantly needed in the Eastern front to try to save themselves against “soviet hordes”), and after the war due to the shameful looks and handling went straight to scrap. That can be checked by comparing how many foot soldiers UK lost, compared to Germany (10 times more).

      • The “soviet hordes” took on the bulk of the German army, hence the lesser UK and US foot slogger losses… A strategy that saved Western Allies manpower, but condemned Eastern and Central Europe to a post-war Soviet “sphere.”

        • It was an irony, thus citation marks.

          But absolutely true, I agree with what you said.
          In any case after ww1 fall of strong empires like Austro-Hungarian, led to formation of small, weak independent states that were militarily no match for russians – there would be (with time) the same result like post ww2 even if hypothetically Barbarossa never happened.

        • The main reason for the collapse of Nazi Germany was the total inadequacy of the Fuhrer.
          Including the failure of German diplomacy, which led to the entry into the brawl of the United States, which made death by suffocation for the Germans under the mountains of corpses of “Eastern hordes” only a matter of time.
          They (like the Japanese) simply physically ran out of operators before the weapons.

  19. Dear Storm,
    Investment casting is best when making components with complex, curved external shapes, but only need a few “finishing cuts” to make them precisely match bolts and trigger mechanisms. Australian Stens “Austen” are examples of taking investment casting to the extreme. Austens cost far more than British Stens to make, but were no more advanced technologically.
    Ironically, Australian “diggers” loved the locally-developed Owen SMG which used similar manufacturing techniques to Sten but was better suited to filthy jungles.

    Nowadays, those components (e.g. lower receivers) are injection-molded polycarbonates with a few sheet steel inserts.

    A few “back shop” Sten clones’ receivers and magazine wells have been built from stock, square tubing simply cut to length. If you only need a short-range, bullet-hose, you can even use stock sizes of steel tubing with the bare minimum of machining/drilling/reaming.

    • Investment casting is a wonderful thing, compared to an example, I cannot recall which, but there is a fact of some british machine gun that iirc bolt or some locking piece started several pounds of steel heavy and needing hundreds of machining operations to finish, to get to a part 1/5 or 1/10 its starting weight !

      Now to me and my set of values, this labor-machining heavy industrially made stuff has additional value in them – just like hand sewn leather shoes are more valuable than injected foamy plastic Crocs, but both of them serve the same purpose.

      • I have it that the Bren gun: As befitted such a central and key weapon for an infantry squad, the first model Bren Mk. I relied on highly skilled, meticulous and precise machining labor, and thus concomitantly lavishly expensive and slow to produce. Enfield factory workers machined a 22-lb/10kg. block of excellent steel through 226 steps to produce the 4.4-lb/2kg. receiver.

        • Thats it, Bren receiver, I’ve forgotten, thanks!

          Someone could chime in with AK47 milled receiver, if he knows the numbers, pre & post.

  20. So would something like a MAC-10 fall in the earlier WW2 generation under this taxonomy? Seems to meet all the parameters.

  21. Dear Ivanator,
    MAC-10 is more of an Uzi-clone, which puts it in the post-WW2, magazine in pistol grip, telescoped-bolt, pressed steel, etc. generation.

  22. MCEM 2 was the first third generation SMG.
    The prototype MCEM 2 was built in Britain by Polish refugee Jerzy Podsedkowski and a group of exiled Polish gun-smiths. The project started in 1942 and the first prototype was built in 1944 from mostly welded sheet steel and steel tubing. It had a telescoping bolt and a magazine well in the pistol grip. It had no butt-stock, but the combination holster/butt-stock could be quickly screwed on similar to broom-handle Mausers and some Inglis-made Browning 9 mm pistols. In that respect, the 14 inch long MCEM 2 was more of a machine-pistol for tankers and signalers to defend themselves.
    MCEM 2 and prototypes from other designers were tested during British Army SMG trials immediately after WW2 since they were eager to replace Stens. Captain Aleksander Ihantowicz-Swiat also developed the slightly-improved MCEM-6. After trials, the longer, heavier and more infantry-oriented Sterling was adopted by Britain, Canada and a dozen other countries.
    Only a few prototype MCEM 2 and MCEM 6 SMGs were built, but they inspired the Czech Sa vz.23/25 introduced in 1948. Forgotten weapons reviewed the Czech vz. 23 on August 10, 2015.
    The further-refined Israeli Uzi was introduced in 1951 and sold by the thousands.

    • I wouldt say Mcem directly inspired sa vz.23.
      As for Uzi, truth is that it was by great degree influenced by Koucky brothers smg zb-476, that participated in israeli trials, probably way more than sa.vz 23.
      There was also israeli Kara smg that was on paper better than Uzi,but lost due to price.
      Also, there was Mauser smg, grip mag, at that time of development (no trials for him). Lot of designes that failed passing prototype stage had one thing in common – not enough stamping and too much receiver machining, like Kara with its round tube receiver, Mauser is the same.

      All of this would be fantastic topics for videos here, at least that we see the innards, because Ian is not 100% knowledgeable on everything, and lot of stuff needs deep research, not to mention whole books could be written.

      • Ahem– I know that Czechoslovakian nomenclature is a constant source of discontent, witness the brou-ha-ha over the samopal as having “vz” or cz included, but I do believe the Koucky brother’s “third generation” SMG prototype was the ZK-476 rather than “ZB” like the MGs.


  23. According to an Israeli website, Czech salesmen did try to sell ZK-476 to Israel, but the Israeli Army never bought any. Some speculate the Uziel Gal and Major Chaim Kara saw the Czech SMG, but other sources say that Gal did not.
    Up and coming young inventor Lt. Uziel Gal showed his prototype SMG to Major Chaim Kara – who headed the Israeli Army’s light weapons shop, but the major was not impressed with the prototype. But he did hire Gal as a draftsman. The two parted company shortly afterwards: late 1940s.
    Kara continued building SMG prototypes based on tubular receivers. Kara’s first prototype had the same configuration as a Thompson, but later Kara prototypes adopted the same configuration as Czech and Gal’s guns.
    After leaving Kara, Gal built more prototypes all based upon square, stamped steel receivers. All of Gal’s prototypes resembled the iconic UZI SMG with telescoped bolt, magazine in pistol grip, etc. The only significant external difference was the choice between fixed wooden or folding metal butt-stocks.
    During Israeli Army trials, the UZI proved more reliable in sand and less expensive to manufacture. Since then, Uzis have sold to more than 30 countries.

    • There is a Uzi book from David Gaboury which I’ve never read as I’m a cheap bastard, not having money for ordering, but contains info about ZK-476 and its role in iirc trials (from what I’ve seen in preview pages).
      I suggest someone getting one, and learning about this prototype road to Uzi.

      Personally to me Uzi with wooden stock looks goofy, like it does not belong on such black finish and plastic parts gun, but with folding stock is absolutely badass looking, whole construction has lot of small details that give it rich character.

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