Weapon Trivia Wednesday: The MP18

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Yes, we fully understand that today is Friday–we found out this morning ourselves. Never again will we drink tequila with daytime strippers in Jacksonville, NC (well, at least not until next week). We’re bringing back this series where we cover some more obscure guns, let us know what you think in the comments and offer up suggestions for future pieces. Mad Duo

WWI-era German soldier with MP18
WWI-era German soldier with MP18

Weapon Trivia Wednesday: The Maschinenpistole 18

By Groz

In World War I’s later years, many weapons were rushed into the field to try and break the war’s longtime, deadly stalemate. Various countries struggled to produce weapon systems that would allow their forces to conduct fire and movement and hopefully fire and maneuver tactics. The Browning Automatic Rifle or BAR is one example familiar in the U.S. However, the German MP18 (Maschinenpistole 18) would cast a long shadow on later small arms design. Considered the first submachine gun by many, it would create an entirely new category of small arms.

Imperial Germany, like the vast majority of combatants in the First World War, had concluded bolt action service rifles and crew served machine guns weren’t enabling the infantry to advance across No Man’s Land. Germany needed a weapon that could provide infantry squads with their own base of fire to suppress and assault through enemy strong points. Other nations looked to lighter manportable machine guns or automatic rifles. The Germans decided not to create a lighter machine gun, but instead a pistol caliber weapon that could provide automatic fire in the close combat of the trenches. Germany initially tried to modify existing pistol designs such as the Luger and Mauser C96 to select fire. The results were less than satisfactory, so a new design was needed. Hugo Schmeisser and Theodor Bergmann would be the lead designers on the project (Italian designers had experimented with pistol caliber machine guns resulting in the Villar-Perosa, but that was a twin-barreled affair that shares little with other sub machine guns, and was intended for aircraft; yes, a pistol-caliber weapon for air to air combat)

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Design

The MP18 was the result of Schmeisser and Bergmann’s work, and was an outstanding first German attempt at a submachine gun or machine pistol. This weapon was designed in 1916, and true to manufacturing of the time was very robust. Due to this robustness the weight was 9.2lbs, much heavier than later SMG’s (submachine guns). Its caliber was the 9x19mm round found in the Luger service pistol. Further Luger influence was obvious in the 32-round drum or “snail” magazine which carried over from the artillery model Luger. This awkward magazine necessitated a feed collar on the MP18 and required a loader to fill the drum. The drum magazine would be one of the only criticisms of the MP18. Rate of fire was 400-500 rounds per minute operating from an open-bolt, full-auto only blowback system.

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One can easily identify the MP18 by its perforated barrel shroud intended to aid in cooling and keep the operator from burning their hand. Production began in early 1918 and a minimum of 5,000 were produced, with production numbers varying between sources. Manufacturing was reduced affected by the Treaty of Versailles after the war, but was continued in secret despite the treaty’s demand that only police be allowed to utilize SMG’s.

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Fielding

MP18’s would be fielded very late in the war and were pushed to Sturmtruppen detachments that specialized in early assault tactics. These Sturmtruppen were intended to facilitate greater fire and movement by Imperial German forces through new tactics well suited for SMG’s. Reports from the field were very positive. This positive response would influence other countries to discuss adapting similar platforms.

MP18. Wikipedia photo.
MP18. Wikipedia photo.

The First World War’s end didn’t mean and end to the MP18’s service in Germany, as they were utilized during the German Revolutionary period following the war. MP18’s would again see use in World War II with German forces. Post-World War I use included the Spanish Civil War, China during the Second Sino-Japanese War, and in South American conflicts. As mentioned earlier, German police would continue to use MP18’s modified to use 20-round straight magazines.

Influence

The MP18, being the first true submachine gun, heavily influenced submachine gun design in the post war period. MP18-influenced designs include Chinese copies chambered in 7.63 Mauser used in the fight against Japan, the French MAS35 and MAS38, and the Swiss SIG Bergmann 1920. The SIG Bergmann would, strangely enough, lead to the Soviet PPSH-41 which Nazi Germany would encounter in World War II. This came about because the SIG Bergmann influenced the Finnish Suomi 31, which influenced the PPD-34 and later PPSH-41. The later German MP28, an improved MP18, would also influence the British Lancaster SMG. As is so often the case in small arms, the influence of the MP18, not its initial combat use, would be its legacy. However, later designs such as the MP38/40 would eclipse the MP18’s notoriety.

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About the Author: Sean “Groz” Burke is a former Assault Section Leader in the Marine Corps infantry with combat deployments to assorted sunny Middle Eastern and African locations. During his tenure as a gyrene many doors were kicked, gates blown and people’s days excessively ruined. During these deployments Sean often instructed the use of foreign weapon systems, helped his command understand the armament capabilities of the enemy and was his unit’s resident “terp wrangler.” He attended numerous PME schools, including Sensitive Site Exploitation and the Iraqi Arabic and Culture Course. After departing the Marine Corps Sean graduated Temple University with a degree in history and is now (no shit) a high school teacher. When not teaching he continues to compulsively study foreign weapon systems, world affairs and foreign policy. Groz is one of the biggest geardos the Mad Duo knows (which is really saying something). He is a wealth of information regarding al things Cordura, Steel and COMBLOC.

Note – images were gathered via Google image search. If it’s yours, let us know and we’ll gladly give you credit.

One thought on “Weapon Trivia Wednesday: The MP18

  • February 6, 2015 at 2:56 pm
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    I’ve had the chance to finger-#$% one. The build quality is something that you would have to see to believe. “Match-Grade” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

    Reply

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