Douglas "recoilless" submachine gun


In 1969, a Canadian designer, Clifford N. Douglas, developed a highly unusual submachine gun which was billed as a "recoilless" SMG. This gun was unique in several ways, and acted as a testbed for some interesting concepts that were never fully fleshed out. The method of eliminating the felt recoil of the gun was achieved by having the bolt and barrel fixed together by a spring. When the gun was fired, the bolt would blow backward as expected, and the barrel would blow forward; the central spring connecting the two would then pull them back together, meanwhile the gap that had temporarily been opened would allow a new cartridge to be loaded into the breech from the magazine. Through this system, the impact of the bolt was barely felt by the user due to the force of the barrel acting against it. What the Douglas did not, and could not, eliminate was the force exerted by the energy of the bullet as it left the barrel, and thus there was still some "muzzle climb" with the Douglas SMG. Therefore what the gun was really designed to achieve was optimal comfort for the firer, rather than eliminating all recoil outright. Indeed, the Douglas could be fired with one hand with significantly greater ease than a standard blowback SMG or machine pistol.

Douglas operation
The operating principle of the Douglas submachine gun.

The other significant feature of the Douglas submachine gun, besides the unique operating mechanism, was the magazine. The Douglas employed a "bullpup" layout in which the magazine was fed in from behind the trigger. The magazine designed for the gun was a tubular helical type, of a similar fashion to the much later Russian PP-19 Bizon SMG. However the magazine was not operated by a spring and follower, but was driven by the movement of the bolt (this can be contrasted to another Canadian experimental SMG, the SAL Model 2). The cartridges in the magazine sat in a spiraling fluted cylinder which was rotated by a sort of screw-type shaft protruding from the front end of the magazine. When the bolt came back it would engage with a series of "teeth" on the shaft and force a ? rotation of the cylinder. This would push a the current cartridge out of the magazine opening and a new cartridge would be elevated to the top of the magazine. When not loaded into the gun, the magazine shaft could be locked in place by a latch to prevent it from rotating unintentionally.

The Douglas submachine gun was evaluated by the Canadian Army in the late 1960s or early 1970s, but it never advanced past an embryonic prototype stage. One imagines that the system used by this gun, while technically innovative, was probably not particularly reliable compared to a standard blowback operation.

Gallery (click to enlarge)

Douglas SMG Douglas magazine

Douglas magazine Douglas testing

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