OVP 1918: Italy’s first WW1 Submachine Gun

The original Villar Perosa machine gun was a rather odd combination of features; a double-barreled gun in 9mm Glisenti with spade grips and a blistering rate of fire. This proved to be of limited practical utility, and the Officine Di Villar Perosa went back to the drawing board in response to an Italian military desire for a true submachine gun. The result was the OVP-1918, which utilized a number of parts from the 1915 guns, including the bolts, magazines, and magazine locking system. The OVP-1918 retained the very high rate of fire that the earlier 1915 weapon had, but had a traditional style stock and grip, along with a semiauto trigger and a full auto trigger. The most unusual aspect of the design was the cocking sleeve in the place of a normal charging handle.

The Beretta firm also developed a submachine gun in 1918, and it is still debated among historians whether either of them saw combat earlier than the German MP-18. Whether they were the very first or not, the combat use of the OVP was limited during World War One, and they would be replaced by more well-developed designs long before World War Two.

33 Comments

  1. Just want to re-iterate that this gun was never called the “OVP”. The official name was the Revelli automatic rifle, or Moschetto Automatico Revelli. Despite what most sources will tell you, it came after the Beretta M1918, not before. It never saw service in World War I and was not in production until late 1919. The Italian Army bought limited quantities in 1921 and used them during the Ethiopian War and the North African campaign during World War II. After that, it was taken out of service in favor of the Beretta 38.

    Col. Revelli embarked on an international marketing campaign to get the weapon sold during the 1920s, which was largely met with no success. He demonstrated the weapon to the British Small Arms Committee, who wrote up a report on the weapon in 1928.

    • “He demonstrated the weapon to the British Small Arms Committee, who wrote up a report on the weapon in 1928.”
      Is that report available? What was it conclusions?

      • Rejected without recommendations for improvements. The SAC considered the 9mm Glisenti cartridge to be too weak.

        In 1915, Revelli sent a Villar Perosa in .455 calibre to Britain specifically on the request of the SAC, who were interested enough to ask the British High Command in France whether they were interested in issuing it to British troops. They predictably declined. As far as I know, however, the single-barreled version was never chambered for .455, as it probably would’ve given too much recoil.

  2. If the original double-barrel VP was intended for airplane use, then a brass-catching bag makes perfect sense. Perhaps there was more VP part-taking in this than suspected.

  3. Superb! Thanks anonymous collector and thanks Ian! Mil Grazie!

    I think this is yet another Forgotten Weapons episode that amply demonstrates the need for a “hands on” evaluation rather than a simple stock photo in a book… I’d seen the OVP–sorry! Revelli moschetto 9m/m in books and images, but had no idea about the annular cocking mechanism (overhand makes sense, insofar as the magazine well is also on the upper surface, no? Perhaps that is one of the rationales in the design?) Similarly, I had no idea that the buttstock was also the screw-driver that turned the screw-secured main spring guide so that the spring, striker, and bolt could be removed.

    Bravo!

    Thanks for posting this and making it available. Grazie AugFC for the nomenclature correction and brief history… There was, of course, considerable political violence in Italy during the “red years/ black years” and in Italian colonies like Libya and so on before the invasion of Abyssinia/Ethiopia, no?

    I’d be curious why it was not sold abroad… Sheer expense? There are Latin American police/carabiñero/para-police units that bought up all sorts of SMGs well before European militaries could countenance a doctrinal role for such arms… Some pretty exotic and uncommon SMGs ended up being sold there.

    • “There are Latin American police/carabiñero/para-police units that bought up all sorts of SMGs”
      Question is does Revelli advertised his weapon there?

  4. At least as good as the MP-18. The Bergman’s snail-drum magazine was an expensive nightmare. The VP’s firing-rate reminds me of the PPSH-41’s own.
    I recall that the Italians did make a special “hot” 9mm Luger cartridge for the Beretta 938, so I’m not surprised that VP takes a hotter than standard cartridge.
    All-in-all the VP may have been the best of the first generation smgs.

  5. I see some obvious affinities between the Revelli Moschetto Automatico here and the WW2 Australian Owen SMG, more due to Evelyn Owen coming up with the same sort of ideas on his own than anything else.

    I think the intended drill for the cocking sleeve was to wrap the left hand around it with the left forefinger on the front knob of the spring catch, shove up on that, and yank it back like a pump shotgun, as Ian suspected.

    The two rails athwart the ejection port were pretty obviously left over from the dual mount aircraft gun, but they probably also served to remind the user not to “choke up” on the receiver unless he wanted a handful of hot brass and a smokestack-type jam.

    It might seem primitive, but it seems that it was capable of sending a magazine full of 9mm downrange reasonably accurately in a hurry, which is about all you can ask of any 9mm SMG even today. I wouldn’t have felt ill-armed with it in a fight back then. It might seem a bit over-complicated compared to something like a Sten MK II, but it’s still a good bit simpler than a Model 1921 Thompson.

    cheers

    eon

      • Interesting observation, but notice too that the Owen and the Australian F1 had top feed but the sights offset to the right instead of the left! On the F1 there is a folding shaped piece of tubing with an aperture sight that can be stowed alongside the tubular receiver, then pulled up and out into firing position. The front sight is dovetailed into a slot in the magazine housing, rather than at the muzzle. The Owen used a sight on the right too.

        The top-feeding Garand/Springfield prototype entrant into the light rifle/carbine evaluations that resulted in the M1 carbine had rear sights offset to the left due to the magazine being at 45 degrees to the right from the top. The Pedersen device, with a similar feeding arrangement, simply used the M1903’s sights.

        • Although, similar, they are still quite different due to Revelli lacking pistol grip and F1 having pistol grip and OWEN having front grip. Combined with Revelli lacking typical bolt handle, it give this weapon sleek look. For me, with magazine remove, it could be used as blaster prop in some sci-fi movie.

  6. How would it fare with emptying a full magazine or two into some wise guy who demanded 1 million Lire out of your bank account?

    “I’m giving you the count of ten to get out of my office or you can eat lead.”
    “No, give me the money or I’ll–” [Revelli gun spray]
    “Keep the change, you filthy animal.”

    • Effective, but a bit cumbersome. A Beretta M1915 in 9mm Glisenti would deliver the same message to him and his employers.

      If the latter didn’t take the hint after their guy arrived back at the manse feet-first, then you get out the AMR- plus some dynamite.

      Or just an SMLE, a cup discharger, and few Grenade No. 36Ms with discharger cup discs.

      cheers

      eon

        • I assume he meant “automatic musket Revelli” by that, “musket” as in “generic long arm.” No, I can’t put the Italian in here, and I probably messed up.

        • As the others have said, “Automatico Moschetto Revelli”, which I remembered was the official designation used by the Carabineri, the Italian semi-military national police. They used them more than the Army did.

          Interesting fact about Italian military terminology pre-NATO; the word “Moschetto”, meaning “Musketoon”, was used for short rifles we’d call “carbines”, plus sub-machine guns which at the time were often called “automatic carbines”, rather the way the British army called them “machine carbines”, which was the exact British terminology for the Thompson, Lanchester, Sten, and Patchett/Sterling up to the NATO era.

          The word “carbine”, carabina, wasn’t used by the Italian army until the 1950s. The Carabineri took it as their name because they had originally been mounted infantry troops, armed with short rifles, in effect dragoons. The idea was to distinguish the national police from the army, even though they technically were two parts of the same overall organization.

          Italian military and police terminology can at times be even more confusing than Italian politics.

          cheers

          eon

          • Not really…
            -The correct acronym would be MAR, as in italian the adjective (Automatico) follows the subject (Moschetto). Also, following the army’s nomenclature scheme, the first letter of the maker/brevet holder is added (MAB, MAR, etc..), then eventually its year of introduction
            -“The word “carbine”, carabina, wasn’t used by the Italian army until the 1950s” – not at all. It was in use well before the foundation of the Italian Army: as an example, here it is an 1855 manual aptly named CARABINE DA BERSAGLIERI: COSTRUZIONE, USO TEORIE SULLE MEDESIME – 1855 https://www.il91.it/CarabinedaBersaglieri.pdf
            – The Carabineri (1814) are not part of the Army, and are a different branch of the Armed Forces (answering the Ministry of Defence together with the Army, the Aviation and the Navy). The other 2 major national law enforcement agencies are: The Guardia di Finanza (1862) answering to the Ministry of Economy; The Polizia di Stato (1852) answering to the Ministry of Interior.
            The origin of the name Carabinieri has nothing to do with the need to distiguish them from anything else.

  7. Ian, so I may not be much of a gun guy (I enjoy your channel more for the history and your kind of gun geek personality) but photography/videography and video editing I know a bit about. With that in mind I thought I would offer the following to maybe help you with your videos in the future. More specifically, I completely understand that flicker can be a huge issue with high-speed footage due to the lack of synchronization between the camera and the lights. With that in mind, I thought the following might be useful if you ever have to record more of that kind of content in the future.

    https://youtu.be/bDDcpyR8ox4

    I achieved those results using a tool called Flicker Free that Digital Anarchy makes for Premiere/After Effects that allows you to remove or mitigate its appearance. The clip above includes the video you posted both in its original form and with the Flicker Free tool applied. I did multiple passes with 3 different layers of Flicker Free applied to each, and while it couldn’t totally remove the flicker it did help to make it less annoying. In total this took me about 30-45 minutes including render time. That may be too much production time for you given your rather hectic release schedule, but I just thought I would mention it in the event it might help improve the quality of your videos.

    Additionally, I have no idea what kind of equipment you using to record your footage or what shutter speed you are using, but you may want to try recording at 50p while in Europe to avoid any flickering in the background resulting from their 50hz power system when you are just talking. Secondarily you can record at 30p/60p and get rid of that by adjusting your shutter angle in the camera (I think a setting of 216 is usually safe at both of those with 50hz power) if it allows for that. Obviously, you will need to change your settings back when you return to the US and our 60hz grid.

    Hopefully, that is of some help. I apologize in advance for the lengthy message but as a fan of your channel I wanted to contribute in some way (other than patreon which I already do) and unfortunately, it is a kind of technical and finicky thing that is hard to communicate in a concise fashion.

  8. The 1930 remake of the Beretta-OVP-1918 SMG relocates the magazine to the bottom to eliminate the problem of a top-mounted magazine obstructing the line-of-sight.

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