RIA: Reifgraber .38 S&W Automatic

Designed by Austrian immigrant Joseph Joachim Reifgraber, this is a prototype gas-assisted short recoil pistol in a .38 rimmed revolver cartridge. While this version did not see any serial production, the Union Firearms Company of Toledo (Ohio) did market a slightly smaller model in .32 S&W (and .32 ACP). The gas-assist, as described in Reifgraber’s patent, is used in this gun but not in the .32 model.


  1. I have noticed that you seem to be having a problem with audio on some of your videos. In the event it hasn’t been brought to your attention, I have noticed that some videos have audio on one side only, while others have no audio at all. Sometimes the videos sent to my email have no audio, while the same video on FB has audio. This video is missing audio altogether. Hoping the resolution to this problem is an easy one.
    Jim Oehl

  2. Very interesting design. The searage strongly resembles the later 1911 searage, in fact the trigger/stirrup pattern looks almost identical.

    The backstrap/safety system looks a lot like the 1970s-era Caraville Arms “Double Ace” drop-in conversion unit for the 1911, which worked a lot like the H&K P7 system.

    The locking system looks like a cross between the BAR and the Mauser C/96.

    The recoil spring setup is practically identical to the 1904 “Type Nambu” or “Papa” Nambu pistol’s.

    The muzzle gas booster seems to have been based on the Vickers-Maxim MG muzzle booster. If it were “turned around”, so that it pulled forward instead of pushing backward, it would be very like that of the VG1-5 carbine of WW2, or the later Steyr GB series pistols. Making it a gas-retarded, rather than gas-assisted, short-recoil acton.

    I could imagine one with that arrangement chambered for 9 x 19mm being a strong competitor for military contracts back then. Reliable, sturdy, and a lot simpler to strip and maintain than a lot of the other autoloaders of its day.

    In .45 ACP, it might have given the Colt/Browning even more of a run for its money in the Army trials than the Savage .45 did.



    • “chambered for 9 x 19mm”
      Assuming that this design can be reused for other revolver (rimmed) cartridges, it could be good selling point: new pistol for old cartridge (so no costs of introducing new cartridge), one of early Mannlicher automatic pistols:
      use rimmed cartridge, blow-forward action and rimmed cartridge have sense for me: cartridge can be restricted only to upward movement (from frame point-of-view)

  3. Very impressive design, especially considering time period. One detail I’d wonder about and that is how ‘easy’ would be to charge the action. Bolt serrations are kind of subtle at not that easy to grab on.
    There can be hardly other way to operate action without initial movement of barrel, due to momentary interlock which is quite common. Then on return I’d expect barrel to be held on a latch which I did not spot in video.

  4. What an interesting pistol. With a movable barrel, gas operation seems completely unnecessary. But it might be thought to guard against some wicked patent rights existing at that ages when the initial application was made. Even recoil action might be seen needless for the cartridge it used but, it would be a must for a breechbolt with this small mass. Separate swinging locking block and its lay out seems very cleverly designed but it needed a separate barrel lock back mechanism at left side of the barrel to keep the same at recoiled back situation to accept the breech locking when the breechbolt returned. The related patent text reads somewhat complicated grip safety working in connection with the cocked hammer functioning as a slide stop adding some more vogueness onto the allready intriqued conctruction. A cleverly thought, over designed, hard to make pistol, a unique example of firearms history. Thanks Ian.

    • Hmm… gas-assisted recoil operation seems to be the way the old Perino machine gun worked. It was somehow very reliable but unfortunately very heavy, plus it got stuffed away as a secret. Too bad the Fiat-Revelli was chosen instead, due to the fact that oil had to be poured on the ammunition just before the complicated “typewriter indexing” magazine was inserted into the receiver (there was no integral cartridge oiler on the Fiat-Revelli).

      Here’s an attempt to dodge patent trolls: My pistol will be gas operated with a gas tube and operating rod located under the barrel. Upon firing, the piston pulls the operating rod forward (thinking like Kawamura here) to slide/tilt/rotate a locking piece which keeps the pistol slide from backfiring. When the locking piece is disengaged, the slide will unlock from the barrel and move rearwards under residual pressure and extract the spent cartridge casing. The recoil spring will then push the slide back into battery, reengaging the slide with the barrel and locking piece. Just before all of this locking together is done, the gas that had pushed the piston will have exited the system, reducing the likeliness of clogging due to powder residue.

      The hypothetical system described above will probably fail, but is there any room for improvement that won’t infringe upon any other gas-operated pistol? I don’t want to use a rifle receiver with a pistol length barrel and I certainly won’t yank the buttstock off a “civilian-safe” semi-auto-only SMG and declare it to be legally a pistol…

      • “I don’t want to use a rifle receiver with a pistol length barre”
        I assume that under that I should understand Olympic Arms OA98.

        For gas-operated automatic pistol designed from scratch as pistol see Ознобищев 1925:
        Cartridge: 7,62mm Nagant (model 1925) or 7,65mm Browning (.32 Auto, model 1926)
        Magazine capacity: 10
        This pistol can be cycled with only one hand (like Lignose Einhand)

      • What you basically have is a Schwarzlose Standart aka Grant Hammond/H&R aka Auto-Mag action with a gas-assisted “recoil buffer” replacing the “accelerator” the Auto-Mag version borrowed from the Finnish Lahti pistol.

        There was a .44 Magnum pistol, the MagMatic, back in the Seventies that worked on this principle. It looked like an overgrown Colt Woodsman .22 with a short gas cylinder at the front of the frame under the barrel. It was never very reliable and AFAIK only two or three were ever built. The principle was patented.

        The problem with all gas-operated closed-cycle systems is that they tend to only work well with a limited range of pressures. Open systems, like the gas-retarded blowback Steyr GB-80 or most notably the Kalashnikov rifle, are more tolerant of varying pressures.

        Even an open system ca be screwed up, however, by over-enthusiastic design. To wit, the M-16.

        It’s one more reason that I consider “straight” recoil-operated systems to be inherently more reliable than gas-operated or gas-“assisted” ones, overall.

        It’s worth noting that after his early experiments with “gas tappet” type actions, John Moses Browning used straight-blowback or recoil-operated systems almost exclusively for the rest of his life and career, with the BAR and the 37mm cannon he designed for the U.S. Army at Colt in 1924-25 being about the only exceptions.

        As the old saying goes, if the pros don’t do it that way, there’s usually a very good reason.



        • But still, historically gas operating system won. New long guns or machine guns using recoil operating system are quite rare¹. For example the venerable MG3 is being replaced by the gas-operated MG5 (a.k.a. HK121). The FN FAL & Minimi, the M60 (which is not dead yet), HK MG4 & MG5 and PKM/PKP are all gas-operated. So, even if recoil operating system was more reliable with pre-WW2 technology, it clearly holds no significant advantage any more.

          ¹ Yes, I know about the Russian GSh-30-1 fighter autocannon, and the Gast cannons (GSh-23, GSh-30-2) are also a variant of recoil operation.

          • “So, even if recoil operating system was more reliable with pre-WW2 technology, it clearly holds no significant advantage any more.”
            Even in pre-WW2 reliable gas-operated machine gun can be found, see Hotchkiss Modèle 1914 or Lewis machine gun

        • “It’s one more reason that I consider “straight” recoil-operated systems to be inherently more reliable than gas-operated or gas-“assisted” ones, overall.”
          ГАУ (Main Artillery Directorate) in 1930s concluded that gas-operated is best solution for self-loading rifle.

          “John Moses Browning”
          Ferdinand von Mannlicher started from recoil-operated designs and ended with gas-operated designs

  5. Patent No. 929491. Though sear connection resembles to Early Colt recoil action pistols, it seems there is no connection with breechbolt reciprocal movement to disconnect the trigger engagement and instead, the hammer seeming to acchieve this mission, therefore, the pistol looks having an escaping disconnector usable only one time after trigger release very much like FAL’s.

  6. I could hear it fine on Firefox. By eye it looked like it would as natural pointer and fit the hand as the Luger is to me. Too bad nobody can take it and make it today in 9mm Luger and .45 acp.

    • Looks as though the receiver/frame is milled from a solid chunk of steel – looks like an expensive part to make. That might have been cost effective in the early 1900s with low wage costs, but now…

      Additionally, is the ejector nubbin a fixed part of the frame? Break that and you have to replace the whole frame?

    • There are plenty of good pistols which chamber those cartridges. I would be more interested in something that fires for example .38 Special +P or .44 Special. Why? Because a semi-auto pistol that uses revolver cartridges is just different from the norm, and apart from the terribly big & heavy Desert Eagle there are not many of those around. .38 Special +P would also be a good subsonic cartridge to use with a suppressor (especially with a heavy 158 grain bullet, although there are supersonic loads as well).

        • Also rimmed cartridge mean that magazine will be bigger than for same capacity same-size rimless cartridge.

          • That is true, but that’s why I didn’t want .357 Magnum or .44 Magnum. .38 Special +P and .44 Special are potent enough unless we are talking about a specialized hunting pistol, which the DE is. Especially because in a semi-auto pistol you won’t loose any pressure through the cylinder gap.

            As for the magazine size: yes, it would be longer, but .38 Spl and .44 Spl are among the shortest centerfire revolver cartridges still in widespread use. Only the .32″ cartridges (.32 S&W Long and derivatives) are shorter.

      • Just once – in the late 70s when I was in the service – I got to shoot a few rounds through the target Smith & Wesson chambered for the 148-grain wadcutter (flush with case mouth) .38 Special, think it was called the Model 52. It was basically a single-action Model 39 with K-38 sights, belonged to a Chief Gunner’s Mate I knew that was a very serious competitive shooter. An incredibly specialized weapon but outstanding at its job, which was punching very small groups in paper targets, and one of those weapons that qualified as a piece of art without engraving or inlay.

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