Schmeisser’s MP-18,I – The First True Submachine Gun


Hi guys, thanks for tuning in to another
video on ForgottenWeapons.com. I’m Ian McCollum and I’m here today at the Rock Island Auction Company taking a look at some of the guns that they’re going to be selling in their upcoming September of 2017 Premier auction. And today we’re going to take a
look at a really cool submachine gun. This is a German MP18,1.
This was basically the first submachine gun to see actual combat use
in the world. There’s some argument about Italian submachine guns but the Germans
are really the ones who came up with the proper design first and put it into
practice with the right tactics. So, this story begins in late 1915, when the
German military decided that it needed something … it wanted a weapon that
was ideal for, as it put it, the last 200 yards (or 200 metres they would have said),
of the attack. So the idea was you want something that can deliver a high volume
of fire at close range. Doesn’t need to be a long-range weapon, we don’t care
about that, we want something to put in the hands of the Sturmtruppen,
so that … when they close with the enemy in a trench, they can have superior
firepower. And the answer to that was, absolutely, the submachine gun. Now one of
the first things the Germans actually tried out was a fully automatic
conversion of the Luger. But the Luger is not really ideally set
up to do that sort of thing, it was closed bolt, it tended to be vulnerable
to cookoffs once it got hot, and the parts are just too small. It wasn’t built to
be a machine gun, and it didn’t work out well. So they ended up trying about
half-a-dozen other designs from a bunch of major designers and manufacturers in
Germany. And the one they eventually adopted was this. This was produced by
the Theodor Bergmann Company and it was actually designed by Hugo Schmeisser.
So the name Schmeisser will have a long history in German submachine guns,
appropriately or not. Hugo Schmeisser was the eldest son of Louis Schmeisser. Louis
Schmeisser had designed a number of other guns for Bergmann, including many of
the Bergmann pistols, and then in about 1905 he actually left the Bergmann
company for some other work, and his son, Hugo, who had been working there since
about 1900, took over for him as technical director of the company. And it was Hugo who is responsible for this submachine gun design. So what we have here is in some ways fantastic, and in some ways really quite awkward. The most awkward part about it is the magazine. So interestingly, Schmeisser originally used a standard type box magazine. Because
when this project was requested in 1915, or early 1916, the existence of this, the
32 round Luger Trommelmagazin, or drum magazine, really wasn’t widely known.
So it’s understandable that the inventors who are submitting
submachine guns wouldn’t have had access to something like this, or even known
about it necessarily. So once the … weapon was presented to the military,
they requested that it be adapted to use this drum magazine, because this is
what was available. These have been in manufacture already for Artillery Lugers,
they are out there, they were produced, it’s a working magazine, (mostly). So it’s
what they wanted to go with. As a result, this thing has a magazine that
hangs way off on the left side. People often complain about side mounted
magazines causing balance issues for submachine guns, and to me in general it’s
not really an important factor, it doesn’t really make that big of a difference.
But I’ll tell you what, on this, even just with this empty drum you can really feel
it trying to pull the gun over to one side. But again that was the drum that
was available, the magazine that was available, at the time. There were no
other high-capacity 9mm or pistol calibre magazines being used. So
that was on there. And then the mechanism of the gun is a
very simple one, which is part of what endeared this to the German military. It’s
just blowback. There is no locking system. And so it’s a very simple gun to
manufacture, and … this would set the standard for submachine guns,
and is still to this day. When the German military finally adopted
this and decided it was what they wanted, they placed an order for
50,000 of the guns in late 1917. Not all of those, in fact nowhere close to all of
those, would actually be manufactured. The highest serial numbered
gun known still today (that is actually wartime
acceptance proof marked), is serial number 17,677.
So about a third of the order was actually produced and accepted by
the end of the war. But even then, not all of those guns actually got to troops at
the front. It’s estimated that only about 3,000 of these guns … actually saw
combat by the time the war ended. So they were only introduced very late in the
war, and only in really pretty small numbers. However they saw enough combat that people … everyone really fairly quickly recognised
their suitability to trench warfare. So there are some elements to
the submachine gun that we can really credit to Hugo Schmeisser that
we take really for granted today. And one of them is this safety notch, the
idea that instead of having a safety lever on a submachine gun (and the MP18, by
the way, did not have a selector lever or a safety lever, it was full-auto only, no
semi-auto mechanism), and the safety was simply to pull the bolt all the way
back and lift it up into this notch. The idea is from there it can’t be bumped
anywhere, it can’t close, the gun’s safe. It holds the bolt open, so you can get
air flow through the barrel to help cool it if you’ve been firing a lot. And
that’s a safety mechanism that … you would continue to see used on a wide variety
of other submachine guns for decades to come. In order to use this magazine that was designed for the Luger, the magazine well
had to accommodate, basically, the grip angle of the Luger.
So it’s tilted back at about 60 degrees. In order to remove the magazine you push
down on this button and pull the magazine out. One thing to take note of
here, is that the magazine well on the MP18 is substantially shorter than the
grip frame of a Luger, so if you were to insert this under stress and in too much
of a hurry, it is easy to over-insert it, and jam the feed lips up against the
bolt or override the magazine stop, and then have the bolt hit the magazine and
damage things. So originally the Trommel magazines were issued with this little
sleeve that fit this extra space, and prevented you from over-inserting the
magazine. This particular drum doesn’t have that, but it was typically used. Now the drum itself is a single stack 32
round magazine. These are all in 9x19mm. And you could load the first bit by hand,
but only down to the first handful of cartridges, before this coil-spring got
stiff enough that you really had to have the special loading tool. And then you
would use this to wind the magazine. And what’s kind of cool is this mechanism,
this lever here, would actually indicate the amount of ammunition you have left.
So we have markers for 12, 17, 22, 27 and 32 rounds remaining. And this end of the
winder would point you to where you were. So the other way to do it is just to
look at where this was, because this would rotate a single turn around. So
when this was up here you had 32, and as it came around, by the time it got to this point
you knew that there was nothing left in the drum, and you just had the 12 rounds left in
this stack going up into the magazine well. These drums were really
the Achilles heel of the MP18. While they may have been the best option
available at the time, they were not a good option. After the war certainly,
once there was any other choice, this sort of magazine would be
dropped as quickly as possible. Now in terms of mechanics, the MP18 is, well,
obviously and by definition a first-generation submachine gun. These parts are all
milled, this is a rather heavy gun. It does have a perforated barrel
jacket up here to protect the users hand. And it has this pretty cool disassembly
mechanism, where it’s actually hinged right here. So to take this apart, we’re
going to start by dropping the bolt down, let it forward. And then, we have a little latch back here. Push that latch in and lift up, like so, and you can pivot open the
whole mechanism of the gun. Then to get the bolt out, we’re going
to take the rear cap and we’re going to rotate it. You can see there are two
marking lines. This is in place and ready to fire, this line is for disassembly.
So we’re going to take this, rotate it to that position, and then
gently let it out. One of the downsides to the MP18 is that it has this very long and very thin recoil spring, which is really prone to binding and kinking when
it’s installed. And you can see that on this one. Now with the spring and guide out we can take the bolt out. To do that, we’re
actually going to pull it back to this point, and then we have to rotate it down,
and then we can pull it the rest of the way out. And then we can see that
Schmeisser actually used a two part bolt and striker here. To be honest I’m not really
sure what the advantage is of having this striker as a separate piece. The spring actually goes into the back end of the striker, and the sear is on the bolt. So it’s not like these two pieces are ever going to
be not in contact with each other. There isn’t really any time when you’ve
got spring pressure on the striker relieved in some way. So maybe it was
just manufacturing, maybe it was just that this was literally, basically, the
first submachine gun out there. And this is the way Schmeisser chose to do it, and
people would recognise that it wasn’t advantageous later and switched
to things like fixed firing pins. The trigger mechanism here
is relatively simple, it is simply a bar that goes forward with a cammed sear inside the receiver tube. OK, so down at the bottom of the tube there, on the left, is the sear and when I push forward on this plunger in the trigger group, the sear drops down. That releases the bolt and allows it to fire. That firing is done just by pushing this
forward, and that’s what the trigger does when the whole thing is assembled.
So since this isn’t assembled, there’s no spring pressure on the trigger right now, but all the trigger is doing is pushing that bar forward. Since there’s no disconnector or semi-auto mechanism, that’s as complicated as it needs to be. Note that in good traditional
German style, pretty much everything is serialised, from the rear end cap here, to the receiver and the magazine well, of course. And even down to the big
screws, like that hinge screw. As for markings, we have an MP18
comma 1 there on the top of the receiver. This then has a 1920 property stamp. I have
a separate video on what that 1920 means, if you’re not sure about that, go check out that
other video. But that is not a manufacture date. These guns are not actually
dated when they were produced. One thing to touch on here, that ‘I’, it’s
either a Roman numeral 1 or a capital I, nobody’s really sure which. And nobody’s really come up with a
definitive explanation for what that means, while there is an MP28 comma
2, or I I [“MP28,II”], and there is also at least one version of MP18 comma I V, there
haven’t been, and no-one’s located, an MP18 comma 2 or comma 3 or an MP28 comma 1. It’s not sure, it’s not really well understood. … One theory is that the ‘I V’ the ‘V’
stands for ‘verbessert’, or improved, which makes sense in some ways
but not necessarily in all ways. That’s just an interesting mystery
out there. Until someone finds more documentation we probably will never know. The side of the receiver here is marked with
‘Bergmann Waffenbau Suhl’, the manufacturer. And the only other marking on here
is the S on the safety catch or ‘sicher’. The rear sight on these was a V-notch
with two positions you could flip between, a 100 and a 200 metre. And that was paired with a nice large
barleycorn style front sight post there. (Also serialised to the gun.) There are two different ways that appear to have
been experimented with for using these in the field. One was to form machine-gun
squads where you’d have 12 men, 6 of them armed with MP18s, and 6 of them
acting as ammunition carriers with more loaded drums. Because those drums are
slow and tedious to load and are not something that you’re going to do in the
field under stress. So you’d have, for every guy with a gun, you’d have a second guy
carrying a bunch of spare ammunition for him. The other way was apparently,
and I think this is how they were originally intended to be issued,
was that each NCO, and then 1 in 10 riflemen, would be issued an
MP18, as kind of a way to spread the firepower through every unit. So
between those two you really have the two major options for how to use firepower
like this. Either one concentrated unit that you can use specially for,
you know, situations that call for it. Or attempting to … spread it
through all of the units, so that if anyone goes into close combat
there’s going to be someone around with a weapon like this to make use of. One of the questions that
comes up with a gun like this is, how do you hold on to something
with a side magazine? Well the first step is remember that you’re right-handed,
because in the Army in World War One everyone was right-handed. So we don’t
have to worry about a left-handed solution. And if we look at some of the
pictures of guys using these in the field or in training, there are two
different ways of actually holding the gun that show up. One is using these
finger grooves, like this. That seems to be kind of the obvious solution,
however there’s another method that you do see photographed quite a bit. And that is
holding on to the magazine well and the magazine, and the way it’s pretty much
always done is with an underhanded grip, like this. This is particularly often done from a kneeling position, where instead of resting their elbow on the table, the shooter is resting this elbow on the knee
that’s sticking up (that they’re not sitting on). One other interesting thing
to point out is the rate of fire on the MP18 here was actually quite slow. It
was about 400 rounds a minute, or about the same as the US World War Two Grease
Gun. That stands kind of in stark contrast to the Italian
counterpart, the Villar-Perosa (and it’s … broken in half submachine gun progeny), which had extremely high rates
of fire. On the Villar-Perosa it was 1,200 to 1,500 rounds a
minute on each of the two barrels. So you see the beginning of the
difference in basic philosophy of the submachine gun, whether you have
a very high or relatively low rate of fire. So after the war the German
military wasn’t allowed to have submachine guns, they really had made
a big impression in those few weeks or months that they were being used.
So the vast majority of these guns that survived (because a lot of them were just
destroyed), the ones that survived were typically issued out to police forces,
who were allowed to have that sort of thing. … They would use the Trommel
magazine version, this Luger drum magazine version, as they had them.
Once the improved version with the better double stack box magazines
came out, they would use those. But not very many of these original pattern
Trommel magazine MP18s survived. So very cool to be able to take a look
at this one, which as far as I can tell is all matching original. Which is
really … quite the rare piece. If you would like to have this one for your own collection, take a look at the description text below. You’ll find a link there to Rock Island’s
catalogue page on this guy, you can take a look at their pictures, their description,
their price estimate and everything else. And if you decide that you need
to have it, you can place a bid here live at the auction, or over
the phone, or through their website. Thanks for watching.

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