Weapon Trivia Wednesday: FP-45 Liberator
America’s pastimes: baseball, apple pie, and killing Nazis. In World War II we were all about killing Nazis, so much so we wanted everyone to join in the fun. Thus, the FP-45 “Liberator” Pistol was born.
Given the advanced aptitude of most of our readers and their affinity for fighting, it should come as no surprise that one tactic we’ve long utilized is training and equipping resistance fighters to do our bidding. That hasn’t worked so well for us in recent decades, but back in the 40’s it wasn’t so bad.
In 1942 the War Department solicited a design for a cheap, simple, and deadly effective weapon they could air drop into occupied areas to arm the locals. The plan would accomplish two things: let the locals freely dispense dirt naps, and destroy the psyche of enemy personnel who expected the locals to be disarmed and easily controlled. Disarming a populace for total control sounds so, oh, I don’t know, Nazi-ish? Socialistic? Oh right, “Clintonian“. That’s the word.
Enter the Flare Pistol, Caliber .45, “Liberator”. The name was chosen to hide what was actually being produced. The pistol itself is not very impressive; it’s sheet metal and zinc with a couple welds. It has few to no markings, no rifling, barely any sights, and is slow to load. It might break after one round or fifty rounds and it certainly wouldn’t be fun to shoot, at least not a lot. The Liberator was designed to do one thing: destroy the enemy and let you take his stuff.
The pistols got their start in March of 1942, when an order was placed for one million inexpensive .45 pistols. Within two months General Motors had a design, and production began a week later at the Guide Lamp Division in Indiana. Pistols began to ship by June and the one-million-unit order was completed in August of that year. The Liberator cost about $1.75 each to produce. They were packaged in a sealed wax box along with ten rounds of .45 ACP ammunition, instruction sheet, and wooden extraction rod, all for a whopping $2.10 (or $31.03 in 2016 money).
To me, that is simply incredible. Can you imagine that happening in today’s environment? The first two months alone would be Remington suing everyone that looked at the solicitation and Colt swearing the 1911 would be a good choice. Absurd testing requirements would muddle the entire process and then the whole solicitation would be canceled, much to the Internet’s consternation.
The FP-45 did see service in a variety of theaters throughout the war, but was never distributed in vast quantities. Half the order was shipped to the European Theater but remained generally untouched. The reason for this is somewhat unclear, but it could be that commanders weren’t given the documents to explain the psychological implications on the enemy or why the already limited cargo space on bombers was to be used for pistols. Several tens of thousands of Liberators were shipped to China and eventually found use with the OSS after being distributed to field offices. Many pistols never left the US and somehow ended up in CIA inventory. It is presumed that a large portion was destroyed when President Ford issued Executive Order 11905 in 1976.
Liberators are available today for the collectors market and come in a variety of conditions and prices. I purchased mine from Collectors Firearms down in Houston a few years ago; they usually have at least one available. If you are interested in getting one I suggest picking up the book by Ronald W. Koch, The FP-45 Liberator Pistol, 1942-1945, which can be had on eBay for a reasonable price.
Reproductions have been made by Vintage Ordnance and appear to still be available, offering a rifled barrel and the necessary legal markings. These would be a great alternative or complement to an original.
It is widely recommended to not shoot a FP-45 today due to the materials and irregular testing at the factory during production, so naturally I have shot mine in the name of science. My pistol has been fired a total of six times, one of which was for a high-speed camera. You may notice the immediate yaw of the bullet thanks to the lack of rifling in the barrel. That’s okay, because the Liberator was designed to kill Nazis at bad-breath distance.
The Liberator may not be as iconic as other service weapons of the period. Even so, it deserves notice for its unique appearance and atypical history. And also because killing Nazis and taking their stuff is awesome.
Mad Duo, Breach-Bang& CLEAR!
Emergency: Activate firefly, deploy green (or brown) star cluster, get your wank sock out of your ruck and stand by ’til we come get you.