FP-45 Liberator at RIA

The Liberator is one of those interesting artifacts of WWII; an extremely simple single-shot .45 caliber pistol made by the boxcar-load (a million, specifically) with the intention of being dropped en masse across Europe to promote civilian sabotage against German occupation forces. They were manufactured by the Guide Lamp division of GM in record time – just 10-11 weeks for a literal million-gun production run. However, as they were being manufactured, shipped, and put into storage the motivation behind the project largely evaporated. British SOE ultimately decided not to distribute any in France, and only distributed a small number to partisans in Greece.

In the US, the Army stockpile of Liberators was transferred to the OSS, and a fair number were actually distributed in India, China, and the Philippine Islands – although they did not ultimately have any measurable impact on the war effort.

35 Comments

  1. Despite the fact it’s meant to be (more or less) disposable, I’m surprised how relatively solid the design looks. Reckon you could make a reasonable recreational single shot pistol design with some polishing (improve grips, strength, ergonomics) and , some more machined parts (or better welds/castings) and a slightly longer rifled barrel. Probably bump the cost up enough not to be worthwhile, but a liberator delux could be fun.

    • Clearly a “don’t make ’em like that anymore” situation. We frequently think of this as reflecting a general decline in craftsmanship over the years, though arguably its a matter of improvements in production technology allowing things to be made more cheaply than they were — They might have made ’em like this back then, but they couldn’t.

  2. Thanks for a video on a pistol that most gun guys dismiss out of hand, while it was actually a tremendous example of American ingenuity and productiveness.

    Now, being a Pole I cannot pass the opportunity to stress that the actual idea of making and scattering the Liberators (which is a much later name) came from Polish military attache in Washington, DC, at that time, Col. Włodzimierz Onacewicz. On March 5, 1942 it was him who referred to Army’s Assistant Chief of Staff (G-2) a memo asking whom to address with a request for weapons and ammunition to be airdropped to the occupied population of Europe. The G-2 flipped the ball to the Joint Psychological Warfare Committee on March 11, and that’s how the story of the FP-45 started. Who wants to see more about that, read Ralph Hagan’s book ‘The Liberator Pistol’.

    Now, ‘a’ Mr. Hyde who designed the actual Liberator, was indeed a man “connected with American small arms development during WW2” – which is actually quite an understatement. The other guns he designed for the US were the M2 SMG (nothing came of which) and then at the Guide Lamp Div, GM – another burpgun, the M3/M3A1. You just might have heard about the Grease Gun sometime?

  3. Excellent review as usual. And of course now I want one, although I have no idea why.
    Although I have seen only drawings, I would really like to see a follow up review on the 9mm Vietnam version of the Liberator.

  4. A problem that I have with the concept is how would you actually use the thing as intended? Where would you find a lone German soldier that you could walk up to and shoot? And what German soldier would allow an enemy stranger to walk up to him?

    What is more, you only get one shot. Reloading would take too long to do anywhere other than away from the scene, so that one shot had better be effective. That’s a lot to ask out of one pistol shot in the modern age. In the days when people actually went to war with single shot pistols, they generally carried a sword to go along with it after they had fired their one shot, which is not something we see much on the modern battlefield.

    In other words, it sounds like the sort of thing which only someone who had no experience actually fighting the Germans would come up with. What partisans actually needed was something like the Sten gun. The Sten while being cheap, was also an effective weapon and had the bonus of using ammunition which was available in occupied Europe (which .45 ACP certainly wasn’t).

    Was a Liberator cheaper than a Sten? At the factory gate price, it certainly was. However, when you look at the complete process of actually getting the weapon into the hands of someone who could use it, and how effective the weapon would be when it got there, one Sten would be a much better deal than ten Liberators. Air drops into occupied Europe weren’t cheap, nor was organizing the pick-ups either cheap or risk-free for the recipients.

    So what could the Liberator have been used for? It might have made a reasonably effective assassination weapon, although a two shot, double barrel version might have been better for that. Instead of shooting armed German soldiers, the partisan could shoot unprotected collaborators and then immediately ditch the pistol while making his escape without discarding anything of real value. I’m not sure that a million assassination weapons were needed though.

    As a piece of industrial history, the Liberator was fascinating as an example of what could be turned out cheaply and quickly. As a practical weapon for filling a real need however, it falls short.

    • “Reloading would take too long”
      Simplest solution is too simply to bring 2 x Liberator pistols.

      “in occupied Europe (which .45 ACP certainly wasn’t).”
      True for most places in Europe, however .45 Auto could be found in Norway (see Colt Kongsberg)

      “It might have made a reasonably effective assassination weapon, although a two shot, double barrel version might have been better for that.”
      I would prefer rather adding silencer than second barrel (assuming that .45 bullet fired from Liberator has muzzle velocity lower than sound speed)

      • It’s well below the speed of sound. barely 3/4 the way there.

        I think the intention was to have a couple of pretty girls ask a couple of young soldiers on check point duty about cigarettes, and while the young men were distracted, to kill them and take their weapons.

        Using those first captured weapons, the next guns can hopefully be collected from a safer distance.

        plus checkpoints are then likely to be more heavily manned, and checkpoint duty less popular – both desirable ends.

        I’m unsure which side any reprisals against local civillians for assassinated sentries, reflected more badly upon.

        • I’m pretty sure some officers will try to spy on the guards to make sure they don’t leave their posts, so someone else should get rid of the officers, preferably by means of vehicular homicide… Or am I wrong?

    • “Where would you find a lone German soldier that you could walk up to and shoot?”

      E.g. in occupied Poland where many young men were able to get their first real weapon by whacking a German on the head with an axe or shovel, and there are several stories circulating about lads using pencils to prod a German from behind and ordering them to rise their hands, then take their pistol and scoot. Take into consideration, that not all Germans roaming the streets of an occupied town were battle-hardened Waffen-SS Walking Fortresses. EVERY German bureaucrat, party official, industrial guard or railoroad clerk in an occupied country was armed – and many in Germany, too, as the holstered pistol was almost a part of the uniform. Any .32, or even .25, be it as dismal as possible was better then some of the home-grown tube guns concocted by the disarmed population. The Liberators would be put to good use in Poland, should they ever start to rain down from heavens.

      “ammunition which was available in occupied Europe (which .45 ACP certainly wasn’t).”

      Nope, it wasn’t. But nevertheless Thompsons were airdropped, and even Reisings (I got a photo from Lublin area, showing Communist “partisan” thugs armed with a Reising airdropped by the Soviets) were airdropped here, not to mention Brens in .303. So what? Better to have a pistol with one bullet, then not having any. And FP-45s were airdropped with a box of 10 rds of .45 ACP, which were to be carried in the grip of the Liberator. Woe betide anyone who would do as the comic-stripe “manual” told them. Getting them into this grip is hard, and you have to put them in just one jig-saw puzzle way to fit – but getting them out… No way unless you have a screwdriver to pry the ninth and eighth round out. Then they all rattle inside and tumble out – but those two first are nearly impossible to get out. Certainly not in a hurry.

      • If you were sneaky enough, perhaps you could find where the German soldiers go to get drunk, start a bar fight between some factions, and steal all the guns in the chaos, along with some important papers… This probably won’t work, but who knows?

      • Speaking of the drops to NAzi-Occupied PolAnd, I think there were also dropped Sten barrels, of which local craftsmen fashioned the “Blyskawica” submachine guns. Regards, Andrzej

  5. The Liberator may be single shot, but there’s nothing that says only one would be used at a time. A group of guerillas could swarm a sentry (or pair of sentries), shoot them and grab their weapons, and then make a fast getaway before the reaction force arrives. And being one step above useless was probably a design feature as most of them would wind up in the hands of the enemy through accident or betrayal. Sten guns could and in fact were issued to German soldiers, but a single shot pistol would be useless to a conventional army.

  6. I can imagine British bureaucrats, with their sights set on a centrally planned post war order at home and a Morganthau Plan to implement in Germany (a plan for a far bigger holacaust of Germans than Hitler’s thugs had inflicted on Gypsies, Jews and Slavs) and plenty of German people were well aware of that plan.

    how shall I put it?

    Those British bureaucrats were probably less than thrilled at the idea of having a million extra pistols floating around.

    I’m not sure at what point it became clear (if it ever did) in Churchill’s Downing Street echo chamber (calling it a circle jerk would be much too charitable), that the terror bombing campaign on blue collar residential areas of German cities (while for example Ford’s Cologne plant was never the subject of a single aimed allied bomb), was only really successful in terms of trolling Hitler into even greater irrationality. Beyond that, it was a waste of lives and scarce resources.

    Churchill, Harris etc were completely convinced that terror bombing was the way to keep going.

    Actually looking at that Liberator
    It does look bigger than I’d imagined.

    and it doesn’t look like it could double up as a set of brass knuckles or as a hammer for cracking skulls.

  7. The Liberator, a pinko politicians worst nightmare. Guaranteed to give them night sweats. Gotta love the concept of a disposable pistol for the peasants. Let them eat .45cal pumpkin ball.

  8. The Liberator was purposely designed to have a limited life as they were afraid that after the war the pistols would end up in the hands of criminals or other “undesirable” groups. Also I believe that extra rounds were stored in the grip.

    • Surely post-war criminals would have their pick of many more, higher quality, cast-off weapons, in calibers more widely available in Europe, than the Liberator.

      Though I’d imagine that the Soviets would have bristled at any deployment of these in Eastern Europe, further limiting its potential distribution. It may well be that the questionable loyalties of resistance groups in France (half or more of which were Communist-aligned) would have given the British pause about scattering them widely. Distribution in Greece (also communist-riddled) was probably via sea supply routes and vetted resistance networks, and thus a bit more reliable.

    • BTW – do you know why the repro bbl is rifled? Some bright mind discovered, that with a smooth barrel it would constitute an AOW – and that’s why the ATF ruled that repro Liberators HAVE TO HAVE BBLs RIFLED. Actually, they also wanted to ban original FP-45s on that grounds (not to mention them being un-serialled) but fortunately the reason prevailed and they were C&R’ed instead.
      But the Canucks had to replace all the bbls on the FP-45 sold legally there, because they were not over 106 mm long…
      And you blame BRITISH bureaucrats for FP-45’s failure – what about all the US and Canadian ones?

  9. As with almost anything that was delivered to resistance groups those were (very rarely) found in Yugoslavia. There was one documented case (which was probably someone from SOE giving a demonstration gun) and a single specimen (possibly a same gun) in museum.
    Considering that early on some people used flintlock and caplock pistols and rifles this would be definite improvement…

    • And during the Battle of Crete, 4 Fallschirmjagers running towards a Luftwaffe-parachuted weapons canister were lost to a couple of old men armed with century-old Turkish Miquelet muskets. Each Cretan bullet claimed two Germans, meaning that the large caliber muzzle-loader isn’t something to discount when parachuting into an old-style Greek town… Remember that during this campaign, most German casualties were due to terrible preparations on the part of their top brass (including a failure to adjust equipment to match the Mediterranean climate, a lack of main-arms that could accompany a soldier during a para-drop without having to be retrieved from half a kilometer off-course, and a failure to understand the local population!).

      • A caveat on the subject of German casualties. You are quite right about the German casualties ON Crete, but the true catastrophe for the Germans took place at sea. They had stuffed the better part of a Division of Mountain troops into a motley collection of small boats and fishing vessels. These troops were supposed to be the follow on force that would take the major portion of the island after the Fallschirmjager secured the beaches and port facilities. If it had worked out it would now be considered a brilliant improvisation. In the event the Royal Navy intercepted them on the open water and slaughtered them. This led to a pause in the German operations which gave the Allies a chance to regroup. It also ment the paratroops would have to take the whole island with minimal reinforcement, which again increased their casualties.

        • Landing operation need to be prepared carefully or otherwise it can fail miserably like Operation Rutter (also known as Battle of Dieppe)

  10. I have an original FP45 that I acquired here in the Philippines. I don’t have the original box, dowel or instruction paper, just the gun which I don’t believe to have ever been fired except for it’s test firing at the factory. My problem is how to get it back to the USA. I applied and was denied an import permit as “No Sporting Purpose”.
    Perhaps a reader has the ability to get this to the US, if so I’d like to hear from you. I’d like to sell it to a collector. I need the money. I am swan der man at aol dot com.

  11. I’m interested in why they were not chambered in 38 special, which the military was using to some degree and must have been in production during the war. That would have meant less steel in the barrel, and maybe not as much of a chamber to cut–as it would head-space on the rim. Less lead and copper for the bullets as well, and over 1,000,000 guns that would have added up. On the other hand, if it is a single shot, may as well make it the most powerful one available to get the job done.

    Part of the problem in Europe may have been that where they were needed the most, and where the most people would have been willing to use them, were not readily in reach of allied aircraft at that point. The Nazi’s never bothered to set up a puppet government in Poland, they intended to simply erase the country and all memory of it–the Poles did not have much to lose. Better to try to ambush a guard and die trying to do something than to be rounded up at random and die anyway. Allied bombers were being massacred in 1942/3 and until fighters were developed that could escort the bombers all the way to the target the bombing needed to do the most damage possible. Any plane making the 1,400 mile round trip to Poland from England would be flying over the heart of Germany, and over high-value targets and a gauntlet of fighter planes–better to bomb Germany if one was going that far.

  12. Ive stated that before, but the main problem with the whole concept was in the repercussion, fact that for every german soldier killed by shooting in the back, his buddies could arrive and execute the whole street and its residents where it happened (or ship them to conc. camps)
    They did not have the practice of randomly executing whole villages in occupied countries (unless being Jewish), so regular occupied citizen/peasant was not being in that danger, that he needed to fight with this teeth and nails everyday for life
    But when the incidents occured surely it took toll on the civilian population that helped and hid the insurgents.
    Airdropping something like sten with some ammo in the forests where these brave insurgents hid, would be a much better idea,
    but again, its described here perfectly why it would not be, if it is to be shipped to Poland (but if shipped from USSR, that would be far more wise and less hazard from anti aircraft activity)

  13. I have actually fired a Liberator in .45 and one round in a

    lifetime is more than enough. I think in 9mm it may jump out

    of your hand. My thumb did not feel right for some weeks

  14. If you want to look at the internals. Steam game player, has World of Guns *FREE* to d/l game that allows you to point-n-click disassemble, reassemble, operate, and look in cut-away-, x-ray modes the function of various guns, the Liberator is in there, but you either have to spend a disparportionate amount of time playing with the other guns to get *buying* points to get where you can play with it, or go to the software publisher’s site and buy full access to all the guns (and the russian software company updates with more guns). There is also a version for smart phones and tablets called “Gun Disassembly 2”.

    http://noble-empire.com/news.php base page for Gun Disassembly 2

    http://store.steampowered.com/app/262410/ World of guns game at steam.

    Note there are clips of various guns in the game showing disassembly, assembly, and operation on youtube.

    C-90

  15. My dumb question: everyone on a coastline ALREADY had a flare gun.
    An adaptor to military ammunition is simple to make.
    Why not just drop the adaptors and ammo?

  16. Well, the .45 ACP was developed specially to combat the Moro rebels in the Philippines. The Americans were scared shitless when a ton of machete-wielding half-naked jungle people swept out from the trees and started cutting off the heads of the Americans. Reports stated that the standard .38 rounds lacked stopping power and that the Moros hit with the .38 still survived long enough to decapitate a Marine. So, the Marines requested a pistol with better stopping power, and the .45 was formed. So, I guess if any of the Germans are crazy Moro descendants the .45 would be useful. Otherwise, a .32, a .25, hell-even a .22 would have done as an assassination weapon. Remember, the Archduke of Austria-Hungary was killed with a .32

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*