Recently, while looking though British Army Cold War training films, I stumbled upon something I never expected to see: a clip of an MCEM-2 firing! I was searching through British Cold War training films and watching a 1953 film titled ‘Village Clearing’ at first it seemed pretty standard fair albeit showing an impressive set-piece of tanks attacking a village. And then about 8 minutes in I spotted something unusual, the prototype MCEM-2, in the hands of one of the village’s defenders.
The 1953 training film shows a company size attack by the Royal Welch Fusiliers on an enemy strongpoint but then shows a section/squad assault on a building. The opposing force or OPFORCE are wearing airborne HSAT helmets and are armed with American weapons including M1 Garands, some first pattern M1918 BARs and a lone MCEM-2! This was likely done to differentiate the British troops from the OPFORCE – either they wanted a generic look or didn’t have any soviet weapons or kit available as is seen in later training films. My guess would be that the prototype may have come from the British Army’s Small Arms School Corps Collection which has historically maintained a working collection of foreign, historic and prototype weapons for familiarisation and training purposes.
The MCEM-2 or Machine Carbine, Experimental Model No.2 was developed by a Polish engineer, Jerzy Podsedkowski. Work on the design began in 1944 but it was not seriously tested until after the end of the war. We can see from this brief clip that Podsedkowski’s design was small, compact and innovative. It fed from an 18 round magazine which like the later Uzi, Sa.23 and RAK Pm.63 was inserted into the pistol grip. While this kept the weapon compact and theoretically holster-able the MCEM-2’s high rate of fire, around 1,000 rounds per minute, meant that it was expended extremely rapidly.
The MCEM-2 (Machine Carbine Experimental Model No.2) was a small, compact, innovative design. The weapon had a holster stock and a wrap-around breech block which was inclosed in a tube metal receiver. We can see the bolt in this photograph. In 1946 Podsedkowski, assisted by another Polish engineer, Aleksander Ichnatowicz, improved the MCEM-2, seeking to slow its rate of fire with a heavier bolt. The MCEM-2 was tested at the Royal Navy’s Gunnery School at HMS Excellent in August 1946. Excellent’s Commandant Michael Le Fanu, later an admiral and First Sea Lord, noted in his report that it was a “well engineered weapon, handy to carry about and suitable for use by seamen” but did note that “the high rate of fire makes the weapon uncontrollable in automatic and dangerous in the hand of semi-skilled users.”
Despite improvements the new MCEM-6 was eventually rejected with a Harold Turpin design favoured before it too was rejected. Hopefully, we’ll be able to take a look at some of these designs upclose in future articles/videos.
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A few people very kindly sent me some other contemporary photos showing other ad hoc STEN front grips so I thought a follow up video was needed. I also found a group of photographs taken in June 1943 at the Combined Training Centre at Kabrit, in Egypt. The photos show groups of Commandos and the Royal Navy’s Naval Beach Parties armed with Stens with a pretty standardised style of front grip.
In these photos we can see the men training with the STENs and the front grips are quite clear. It’s especially interesting in that it isn’t just the Commandos who have the front grips but also men of the Naval Shore Parties. It’s also relatively rare to see STENs in North Africa. You might have seen some of these photos, taken by Royal Navy photographer Lieutenant L.C. Priest, in our video looking at the unusual fighting knives the Commandos are equipped with.
The plethora of photos from Kabrit show a fairly standardised design for the grip. A metal ring, seemingly tightened by a wingnut on the left side and a generous wooden grip that was long enough to fit all four fingers on. The grip appears to have some finger grooves and a fairly standard shape. A photo (see above) of Naval Commandos on parade shows the men with the STENs tucked under their arms, holding the front grips. This is identical to how the STEN MkI with its front grip was paraded with. The photo also gives us a good look at the uniformity of the grips.
While the photos from the Combined Training Centre at Kabrit represent the largest number STEN front grips seen in one place and several units there are a few other photos which are really interesting. First up is this photograph of a Corporal from the RAF Regiment taken in Libya sometime in 1943. The Regiment had been formed just a year earlier. The corporal is sat cleaning his STEN MkII with the butt removed but the bolt still in the weapon. On the barrel nut of his weapon he has a wooden front grip. Again seemingly attached to a metal band around the barrel nut. The wooden grip appears to have some rudimentary finger grooves. Sadly, I couldn’t find any other photos of this Corporal and his STEN. But the design of his front grip is very similar to those seen in the Kabrit training photos and could well be of the same origin.
Finally, we have a photograph from a completely different theatre – Burma. The caption for this photograph reads: “Men of the 2nd York and Lancaster Regiment searching the ruins of a railway station for Japanese snipers, during the advance of 14th Army to Rangoon along the railway corridor, 13 April 1945.” This soldier’s STEN MkII has a grip just in front of the trigger mechanism cover and behind the magazine housing and ejection port. It’s actually in a position close to that of the original STEN MkI’s integral folding pistol grip.
At the end of the day the adaptation is a good idea, a front grip provides a means of pulling the weapon into the shoulder and a more natural place to grasp other than the barrel nut, the trigger mechanism housing or the magazine – which was discouraged. It is interesting to note that I’ve yet to see any examples of a MkIII being fitted with a front grip like these.
This is certainly something I’m going to do more research into to see if there’s any documentary reference to the use of front grips like these. With the introduction of the MkV, with its front grip, it seems that the idea was sound enough. If you know of any other examples let me know in the comments!
It’s essential for soldiers to know how to use and maintain their weapons properly. We’ve been collecting training manuals, pamphlets and handbooks (as part of the TAB reference collection) to give us a wider understanding of how troops were trained and how they used their weapons.
In this video we take a look at the British Army’s 1942 small arms training pamphlet for the ‘Thompson Machine carbine’.
The pamphlet, issued in July 1944, is written for instructors to train troops how to handle, maintain and use the Thompson. The pamphlet was eventually superseded by one covering both the STEN and Thompson.
The pamphlet is just 12 pages long but includes some interesting insights and an appendix looking at the ‘spotlight projector’ training instrument.
While the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has prevented some archival research I had planned which would have informed much of the STEN series, our good friend Richard at the Vickers Machine Gun Collection and Research Association, has come to our aid and we’re able to cover some of the loading accessories developed for the Sten’s magazines.
As we know the Sten uses a 32-round double stack, single feed magazine which can trace its origins back through the Lanchester Machine Carbine to the Haenel MP28,II’s magazine designed by Hugo Schmeisser [patented in 1931].
The nature of the single feed makes the magazine difficult to load by hand with the last few rounds very hard to insert. So a series of four marks of ‘magazine fillers’ were developed. These are described in the British Army’s official List of Changes in February 1943.
The MkI is described as consisting of “a lever mounted on a short case which conforms to the shape of the magazine. It is hand operated, the loading lever being given a rocking motion during filling. The MKI slipped over the top of a magazine with a rivetted spring tab which indexed into a notch in the front of the Sten mag.
The MkII is very similar but simplified by having the spring catch mounted on the rear instead of the side and engaged a “small rectangular slot on the magazine”. The rear of the spring is turned up slightly to allow the user to remove its from the magazine.
The MkIII, which is possibly the rarest of the fillers, is described as:
“hand operated but of different design from the MkI and MkII. It consists essentially of a spring loaded vertical plunger which is attached externally to a case, the latter to assemble on the magazine. There is no retaining catch. It comprises the following parts:
Case. Is a rectangular shaped steel pressing with a tube of rectangular section welded thereto. The latter, which houses the plunger and spring, has a hole trilled at the lower end to accommodate a pin which restricts the amount of movement of the plunger and acts as a stop for the compressing spring.
Plunger, loading. Is made of two laminated steel strips welded together the top part of which is set to form a handle. The body of the plunger is slotted to accommodate the compression spring. The top part is splayed to form a suitable contact with the cartridge.”
List of Changes, Feb. 1943
The other more common filler is the MkIV. Which is a much simpler design with a loading lever mounted on top of a clip which is attached to the rear of the magazine body and retained by a spring similar to that of the MkII.
Rich has very kindly demonstrated the use of the two most common fillers – the MkII and the simpler MkIV. It takes Rich just under 2 minutes to load that magazine, but he was doing his best to show various angles and unlike a British soldier during the war he hasn’t regularly loaded magazines with one of these fillers either. Despite that the clip gives a good idea of how fast you could load a mag once you’re in the groove.
With the MkIV filler Rich was able to load the mag in about 1 minute 15 seconds, the stability of resting the base of the mag on the table helped with the MkIV’s simpler design.
Also, as a follow on to our previous episode looking at the Sterling Submachine Gun’s magazine Rich has also demonstrated the loading of a Sterling mag to its 34 round capacity. No magazine filler needed with George Patchett’s double-stack, double feed magazine.
In May 1946, George Patchett patented a new curved magazine which would become one of the Sterling’s most recognisable features. It addressed some of the serious shortcomings of the STEN’s magazine.
George Patchett’s machine carbine, Which later that came to be known as the Sterling, had been initially designed to use the standard STEN magazine. This makes complete sense as not only was the STEN’s magazine readily available but it stood to reason that the British Army would prefer to retain the large number of magazines it already had in stores.
The STEN’s magazine is, however, the gun’s weakest link. Its a double-stack, single feed 32-round magazine was difficult to load and could feed unreliably when not looked after. The Patchett prototype performed well during initial testing in 1943, but later sand, mud and arctic testing of the Patchett against various other submachine guns highlighted the limitations of the STEN magazine – regardless of the weapon using it.
At some point in 1945, Patchett developed a series of new magazines, a 20-round ‘Patrol’ magazine, a 40-round ‘Standard’ magazine and a 60-round ‘Assault’ magazine. By late 1946, these had been superseded by a 35-round magazine designed to fit into the basic pouch of the British Army’s 1944 Pattern web equipment.
Patchett addressed the STEN magazine’s shortcomings by designing his magazine with a curve which allowed the slightly tapered 9×19mm rounds to feed more reliably. He also replaced the traditional magazine follower with a pair of rollers which minimised friction and allowed dust, grit and dirt to be rolled out of the way improving reliability. Patchett’s magazine was designed so it could be economically stamped from sheet metal and folded and spot welded into shape. It was also simple to disassemble for cleaning and requires no tools for disassembly.
By 1951 the magazine had been largely perfected but a trials report suggested that the magazine’s feed lips needed to be reinforced. Despite this the Sterling was said to be “better than all other weapons tested.” Following further development and testing the L2A1 Sterling submachine gun was eventually adopted in the summer of 1954. We will cover the development, adoption and service of the Sterling at a later date.
In 1952, Patchett added a pair of strengthening ribs to the inside of the magazine which also further reduced friction on the rollers. He also replaced the oval follower spring with a more efficient circular one with the ribs acting to hold it in place. The final production magazines held 34 rounds and were substantially easier to load than the earlier STEN’s.
The L2A1/MkII, introduced in 1954, was the first Patchett to incorporate an angled magazine housing which improved feeding reliability from the Patchett’s patented curved, double stack, double feed magazine. The Sterling’s magazine housing was angled forward slightly at 82-degrees.
The magazines used by the British military differed from Patchett’s design. The British government, perhaps unwilling to purchase the rights to manufacture Patchett’s design, developed the ‘Magazine, L1A2’. Nearly two million of these were built at Mettoy, Rolls Razor, ROF Fazakerley and the Woolwich Royal Laboratories. The L1A2 magazine was slightly simpler to manufacture but retained Patchett’s roller follower while the magazine’s body was made from two, rather than four, pieces of stamped steel and electrically welded together. The government-designed magazine is 5cm (2 inches) longer than Sterling’s magazines.
The example magazine seen above and in the accompanying video is Sterling-made and is marked with the company name and patent numbers. We can see the folded sheet metal construction and the overlaps at the rear of the magazine body.
When Canada adopted the C1, a modified version of the Sterling, they dispensed with Patchett’s roller system and designed their own magazine which held 30, rather than 34 rounds, but could be used in all Sterling-pattern guns.
On the front of the magazine is an over-insertion stop built into the edge of the magazine body, at the rear is another magazine stop with a flat spring which limits rattle and helps properly align the magazine in the breech for optimal feeding.
The M50 is one of the quintessential early Cold War submachine guns. Cheap, simple and utilitarian. It evolved from the earlier M46 and was developed by Dansk Industri Syndikat in Denmark. The M50 has a simple blowback action, is chambered in 9×19mm and feeds from 32-round double stack single feed magazines.
The weapon’s has a clam-shell like receiver that hinges at the rear and allows the barrel, bolt and recoil spring to be removed. The M50’s folding stock has a leather cover and while the length of pull is a little short it provides a decent cheek weld.
The M50 has a relatively slow rate of fire of around 500 rounds per minute which makes it very easy to make single shots while in full-auto. The sights are extremely simple with a single rear peep sight.
It has manual safety switch on the left side of the receiver which locks the sear in place and a spring-loaded grip safety just behind the magazine well. The amount of pressure needed to disengage it is minimal and a firm firing grip of the magazine is all that is needed.
The Madsen went through a number of changes with various models having different magazine release types, selectors and manual safety positions. The M53 introduced in 1953, fed from a curved magazine and had an improved magazine release. Some models had an additional fire-selector and the safety moved back above the trigger. Some models retained the forward grip safety while others moved it to behind the pistol grip. Some patterns of M53 also had a barrel shroud for mounting a bayonet as well as added wooden panels on the pistol grip.
We’ll have a more in-depth look at the Madsen M50 in the future looking at the various models in some more detail.
Special thanks to my friend Chuck at Gunlab for letting me take a look at his M50.
The Sten is one of Britain’s iconic Second World War Small arms. Two men are principally responsible for its development Colonel Reginal Vernon Shepherd and Mr. Harold John Turpin a pair of small arms and engineering experts with considerable experience.
Turpin was born in Kent in 1893, served his apprenticeship as a draughtsman in Erith and in 1922, he joined the drawing office at the Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield – Britain’s principal state small arms centre.
Reginald Shepherd was born in 1892, received an Bachelor of Science Degree from Leeds University in 1912. In October 1914, he joined the West Yorkshire Regiment as a second lieutenant, serving in Gallipoli and Egypt. After the war, with his engineering background, he assigned as 2nd Assistant Superintendent at the Design Department at RSAF Enfield in December 1922, and promoted to captain.
The two men found themselves joining Enfield at around the same time. In November 1933, Shepherd, now a major, was appointed Inspector of Small-Arms (Class 2) at Enfield and assisted in getting the Bren light machine gun into service. He remained at Enfield until 1936, when he retired from the army and spent a short spell at BSA before being recalled. In late 1939, Major Shepherd returned to active service and once again took up the position of Inspector of Armaments, this time at the Ministry of Supply Design Department at Woolwich Arsenal.
By the outbreak of the Second World War Turpin had become the senior draughtsman at Enfield and when the development of the Lanchester Machine Carbine began he was paired with Major Shepherd to draw up technical drawings for the gun’s production.
The two men decided that a simpler, cheaper submachine gun could be produced and in December 1940 set about designing it, with Turpin in the lead. During the Winter of 1940-41 the first prototypes were built. Development of the first Sten – the T40, was completed on 8th January 1941, taking just 36 days.
14 pilot models were ordered but only two were completed by engineers at the Philco Radio Works in Middlesex: T-40/1 and T-40/2. The gun was initially designated the ‘T-40’ or Turpin, 1940. By the end of January 1941, it had become known as the ‘ST Machine Carbine’. The ‘Carbine, Machine, STEN, MkI’ was approved for issue on 7th March, 1941, with 100,000 guns ordered.
How did the gun become known as the ‘STEN’ and what did Sten stand for?
We know that the ‘S’ stands for Shepherd and the ‘T’ for Turpin, but what about the ‘EN’ – it is generally accepted to represent ‘Enfield’. Why? Because RSAF Enfield is synonymous with British military firearms. Additionally the Bren light machine gun’s name is a portmanteau of ‘BR’ from Brno, the location of the Czech factory the zb.26/30 originated from, and ‘EN’ for Enfield, the British factory that anglicised the design for British manufacture and service.
Enfield, however, wasn’t where the Sten was designed. Turpin and Shepherd claimed that most of the work on the design had been done out of hours. Additionally, during the winter of 1940, the Armament Design Department was relocated, from Enfield to a former Drill Hall in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire to escape the bombing of London.
While the Sten may not have been designed at Enfield, the first prototype was partially assembled there with work also done at Turpin’s own home workshop. A further 46 pre-production pilot models were later ordered from RSAF Enfield, in February 1941.
Intriguingly, early accounts suggest that ‘EN’ may have stood for ‘England’ – not ‘Enfield’. In October 1942, the fifth instalment of ‘Know Your Weapons’, a semi-official series of weapons manuals printed by the publisher Nicholson & Watson, explains that ‘EN’ did in fact stand for ‘England’.
In June 1943, Turpin penned a semi-anonymous article for ‘The Model Engineer’, about the design and development of the gun, which repeated this claim. An October 1943, article in the US Popular Mechanics magazine, entitled ‘Machine Guns from Backyard’, includes a supposed quote from the inventors explaining that the “E and N stood for England.”
A more official account came in June 1949, at a hearing of the Board of the Royal Commission Awards to Inventors (a board set up to reward inventors who had done important war work). One of the board members Lord Justice Sir Lionel Cohen asked Shepherd: “Why was it called the Sten?” The colonel replied: “It was called the Sten by the then Director General of Artillery. The ‘S’ was from my name, the ‘T’ from Mr. Turpin, who was my draughtsman and who did a very large amount of the design, and the ‘EN’ was for England. That is the origin of the name, for which I accept no responsibility.” This suggests that the ‘EN’ standing for ‘England’ may have originated from the upper echelons.
Sadly, there was no officially published explanation of the name as official manuals rarely go into superfluous detail. In 1948, however, Ian Hay published R.O.F. The story of the Royal Ordnance Factories, 1939-1948 in which he stated the ‘EN’ was a reference to the Enfield factory. Similarly, another early published account, D.M. Ward’s 1946 The Other Battle, a history of BSA, also suggested it represented the factory name.
In truth it is difficult to know exactly what the ‘EN’ stood for. It may be that both Enfield and England were discussed and used by various individuals and offices. There may have been an element of propaganda to including ‘England’ in a weapon’s name which led senior officers to push this in the press and direct the gun’s inventors to suggest this was the case too. Of course the authors of those earlier books may have mistakenly believed ‘EN’ stood for Enfield, as it does in Bren. Personally, I’m inclined to follow the primary sources attributed to the two men responsible for the design, and believe it initially stood for England.
Shepherd was awarded an OBE in January 1942, and became the Assistant Chief Engineer Armament Design (A/CEAD), he was promoted to Lt. Colonel in August 1943. He retired from active duty at the age of 55, in January 1947, and was removed from the reserve list. He was granted the honourary rank of colonel. He died in April 1950, aged 58. Turpin retired from RSAF Enfield in 1953, and died in April 1967, aged 74.
Beyond a pair of discretionary payments, £1,500 to Shepherd and a small payment of £200 to Turpin, neither man was officially rewarded as they were deemed to have essentially done what they were paid for, designing small arms. Scant reward and recognition for a weapon which became one of the key wartime small arms of the British and Commonwealth forces.
Our thanks also to Jonathan Ferguson, of the Royal Armouries, for sharing his thoughts on the ‘Enfield’ vs ‘England’ debate.
The Sten Machine Carbine, P. Laidler, (2000) R.O.F. – The Story of the Royal Ordnance Factories, 1939-1948, I. Hay, (1949) The Other Battle, D.M. Ward, (1946) The Sterling Submachine Gun, M.J. Moss, (2018) The Sten Gun, L. Thompson, (2012)
‘Sten & Bren Guns’, Know Your Weapon #5, (Oct. 1942)
‘The Sten Carbine’, Model Engineer, 3 Jun. 1943, H.J. Turpin Board of the Royal Commission Awards to Inventors – 1946-49
‘Machine Guns From Backyard’, Popular Mechanics, Oct. 1943
Developed in the late 1960s and introduced in 1969/70 the MPi 69 was Steyr’s entry into an already crowded European submachine gun market. Heavily influenced by the Israeli Uzi it had a bolt which telescoped over the barrel and fed from a box magazine that was inserted through a magazine well-come-pistol grip.
The MPi 69 weighed 6.5lbs (2.93kg) unloaded and had a polymer lower receiver into which a stamped metal upper inserted. Unlike the Uzi it had a collapsing, rather than folding stock, similar to the M3 submachine gun’s, and was cocked not by a handle but by pulling the sling (which was acted on the bolt) to the rear.
The MPi 69 remained in production into the early 1980s when it was replaced by the improved MPi 81. Moving away from the slick-cocking ‘gimmick’ the MPi 81 had a conventional, non-reciprocating, charging handle on the left side of the receiver. The MPi’s polymer lower allows it to be a pound lighter despite being slightly longer as a result it also balances better than the standard Uzi carbine.
The MPi submachine guns fire from an open bolt and had a 10in barrel and has a push through safety with settings for safe, semi and full auto and unlike the Uzi it does not have a grip safety – simplifying manufacture.
The MPi also has a progressive trigger which when set to full-auto will allow the user to fire semi when pulled to the first stage and full when pulled fully to the rear. While the MPi 69 had a cyclic rate of around 500 per minute, the MPi 81 increased this rate to ~750rpm.
The MPi can be field stripped by simply rotating the receiver end cap up 90-degrees and pulling the bolt out the rear. The gun can be further stripped but the moulded polymer lower receiver can be difficult to remove from the upper. Like the Uzi the barrel nut is unscrewed to remove the barrel.
It is unclear just how many MPi submachine guns were produced but they didn’t see any significant contracts beyond a few small sales to police forces and militaries.
The MPi 81 remained in production into the early 1990s when it was replaced by the smaller and more compact Steyr TMP in 1992. In turn the TMP design was sold to B&T a decade later.
Our thanks to the collection that let us take a look at this MPi 81 and to our friend Miles Vining for sharing some of his shooting footage of the MPi 81 with us, check out his video here and more of his work at www.silahreport.com.
Here’s a short video looking at how the unusual Hotchkiss Universel deploys from its compact, folded position. The whole process takes just seconds. Impressive engineering but within a couple of years the Universel would be surpassed by far more compact, ergonomic and serviceable designs like the Uzi and PM-63.
The need for compact weapons capable of being carried with ease by troops who would be getting in and out of vehicles, jumping from planes and fighting in close quarters had been proven during World War Two. While it may look unusual the Hotchkiss ‘Type Universel’ was an extraordinary attempt at creating an extremely compact submachine gun.
Submachine guns had proven themselves to be an useful weapon during the war, their small size and high rate of fire made them invaluable, especially in close-quarter situations. The post-war French army found itself armed with a plethora of surplus submachine guns, which included: the German MP40, the British STEN and the American Thompson as well as their own pre-war MAS-38s, in 7.65x20mm Longue, which had been designed before the war. By 1946 they had already begun the process of selecting a new, more compact submachine gun. Seeking to standardise on a single weapon and calibre they selected 9x19mm and launched a programme to find a new submachine gun or Pistolet Mitrailleur.
The French War Ministry launched a call for state arsenals and civilian manufacturers, such a Hotchkiss and Gevelot/Gevarm, to submit submachine guns for trials. Hotchkiss submitted the Type 010 or Type Universel, often anglicised as Universal, despite this the guns are typically marked ‘CMH2’ – ‘Carabine Mitrailleuse Hotchkiss’.
Chambered in 9x19mm, the Hotchkiss fed from MP40-pattern magazines, used the ubiquitous blowback action, it fired from a closed bolt and had a cyclic rate of approximately 650-rounds per minute. The Hotchkiss is select fire with a push through selector that allows for semi and full-auto fire. It appears that the weapon’s only safety mechanism is to close the ejection port cover and lock the bolt in place – much like a US M3 Grease Gun.
Designers went to extraordinary lengths to minimise the size of the Universel. Not only did the stock fold beneath the barrel but the magazine well and magazine could be rotated forward to sit beneath the barrel with the magazine fitting between a U-shaped cut-out in the butt stock. The weapon is a curious mix of stamped metal and complex machining with a difficult to machine bolt and barrel contrasting with a stamped sheet metal lower receiver and wide stamped trigger.
In 1950 Hotchkiss sales material described their weapon as “the individual defense weapon meeting the requirements of the most modern Armies and Police. Folded up, it is very compact, easy to transport, conceal and parachute. It is quick to set up and comes unfolded in the form of a carabiner…”
The weapon’s pistol grip was hollow and when folding up the stock, the grip folds forward to cover the trigger. The Universel’s most interesting feature is its telescoping barrel which retracts several inches inside the receiver. These features brought the Hotchkiss’ length down from 30.6 inches (77.6cm) when the stock was extended, to 22 inches (54cm) with the stock folded, and an impressive 17.25 inches (43.5cm) when fully collapsed. The nature of how the pistol grip folded with the stock meant the weapon could not be fired with its stock collapsed. When fully collapsed the weapons’ depth was just 6 inches or 15.3cm.
First we unfold the stock by pushing the knurled collar forward to unhook it from the base of the magazine well. When fully unfolded a spring detent locks into the rear of the receiver.
At the same time the pistol grip also unfolds. If we had a magazine loaded into the weapon we would deploy the barrel first – in order to allow the magazine to slide back through the magazine well and fold down to lock into position. The bolt follows the barrel forward so once the magazine is locked into position the weapon has to he be charged to chamber a round.
The collapse the weapon again, first fold the stock, then depress the lever just behind the trunnion to unlock the barrel, push the barrel assembly and bolt to the rear until it locks.
The Universel’s extreme compactness was both its best and worst feature, the complexity of having every protruding part fold or retract made the weapon expensive to produce. It also gave the weapon poor ergonomics with a narrow butt, an uncomfortable pistol grip and narrow sights which weren’t ideal for quick target acquisition.
The Hotchkiss was one of a whole host of compact folding submachine guns developed after World War Two. These included the MAS MLE 1948, the MAC Mle 1947 and of course the MAT-49 from French state-arsenals. The French guns were by no means the first to have folding magazines, that concept dates back to submachine guns like the SIG MKMO. Incidentally, SIG’s last developmental iteration of their submachine guns, the MP48, was also developed in the late 1940s and retained the MKMO’s folding magazine housing.
A 2001 article from the Gazette des Armes, by Michel Malberbe, includes an account from a Legionnaire sergeant who describes using the Hotchkiss in Indochina:
“I saw for the first time the submachine gun Hotchkiss in ‘Indo’. We were responsible for the security of the RC4 [Route Coloniale 4], and the staff sent us wooden cases containing these famous submachine guns. As the documents were not very complete, our company commander… had trouble explaining how it worked. It was quite funny, because folded, this submachine gun did not look very serious. It was like a rectangular scrap metal package… We used it for the first time on the Lang Son side, during a serious collision between the Viets and a convoy… I remember that this machine worked very well. But it lacked a little precision. Anyway, it was much better than the small MAS-38 submachine gun, whose magazine always blocked [jammed] at the wrong time! On the other hand, I think I remember that the Hotchkiss did not stand up to mud and that it was misery to clean it. In addition it was quite difficult to unfold because of the buttons found everywhere. We never knew which one to press. We, in any case, always transported them in the firing position…”
While the Type Universel definitely wouldn’t win any prizes for its aesthetics, it was a ambitiously-engineered and well-built submachine gun. Despite this the design was simply too complex, as we have heard troops in the field rarely took advantage of its compact features preferring to carry the weapon at the ready. The Universel sacrificed a lot to achieve its compactness and the ergonomics of the weapon leave a lot to be desired with an extremely small butt and a hollow pistol grip that just feels wrong.
It is believed that in total just 7,000 Hotchkiss Universels were produced between 1948 and 1952. The French military rejected the Hotchkiss feeling the weapons was too complex and too expensive to manufacture. Instead, the MAT-49 submachine gun, designed by Tulle, was eventually adopted. The MAT-49 also had a folding magazine housing making it almost as compact as the Universel but without its complexities.
While it underwent some field testing with the French in Indochina no major military contracts were won but small numbers were purchased by the French police, the colonial police in Morocco and some were sold to the military of Venezuela. The Universel would be one of the last firearms produced by Hotchkiss et Cie, who had built numerous armaments for the French army during the 19th and 20th centuries, before it closed its weapons manufacturing arm in the early 1950s refocusing on automobile manufacture.
Special thanks to Battlefield Vegas for allowing us to take a look at their Hotchkiss.