The SIG Model 1920 was a derivative of the famous Bergmann M.P.18.I submachine gun that was used by the Germans during World War I. After the war, the Theodor Bergmann factory of Suhl was closed down and Germany was prohibited from producing automatic weapons due to the Treaty of Versailles. While the M.P.18.I's designer, Hugo Schmeisser, found new work at the C.G. Haenel firm, Theodor Bergmann remained in control of the gun's production rights and sold them to Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaft (SIG) in Switzerland. At SIG, modifications were made to the design under the direction of Gotthard End and this new version of weapon entered production in 1920.
Although the SIG Model 1920 resembles the M.P.18.I and the later M.P.28.II, and is indeed often mistaken for those guns, it incorporated unique design traits not seen on the Schmeisser-designed SMGs. The magazine housing was a departure from the Schmeisser pattern. It had a different type of magazine release that was located on the underside of the mag feed and took proprietary 50-round magazines, incompatible with the Schmeisser guns. The fixed rear sight of the M.P.18.I was replaced by an adjustable tangent sight that graduated to 1,000 meters - well beyond the effective range of any SMG. One of the most distinctive identifiers of the SIG Model 1920 is its cocking handle, which was a rounded knob rather than a curved handle.
Internally the SIG Model 1920 basically operated on the same action as the Bergmann M.P.18.I. The bolt rode on a guide rod with a loose firing pin. The Model 1920 did feature bolt lugs built into the interior of the barrel collar and chamber, which were not present on the original M.P.18.I. It featured no markings on the receiver, save for serial numbers and "Brevet Bergmann" (Bergmann Patent) printed onto the magazine housing.
The SIG Model 1920 was perhaps not as successful as SIG had hoped, as there was still much resistance to the concept of submachine guns among most European armies in the 1920s. However, it was exported to Estonia and Finland in the early 1920s; both countries also produced domestic copies. In Finnish service, the gun was issued with a special tool for reshaping the feed lips, which could become distorted and damaged when put to rough use. The Finnish also developed a device designed to adjust the lateral position of the front sight. This vice-like apparatus was clipped around the muzzle.
The SIG Model 1920 was particularly popular in South-East Asia, seeing large sales to China and Japan in the 7.63mm Mauser cartridge. It was used in China extensively during the Civil War period and the later war against Japan, and the Chinese developed a modified copy of the Model 1920, produced at the Tsing Tao and Dagu arsenals. This Chinese version was largely identical, except for the use of a vertical magazine feed.
The Imperial Japanese Navy adopted the SIG Model 1920 (NOT the M.P.18.I or M.P.28.II, as is often believed) as the "Type Be" (Be as the first phonetic in "Bergmann"). The Type Be submachine gun was issued with Japanese-produced bayonet fittings that wrapped around the barrel jacket, taking a sword bayonet. It was used in quantity by the Special Naval Landing Forces during the annexation of Manchuria and the subsequent full-scale invasion of Shanghai in the 1930s.
Production of the Model 1920 ended in 1927. Around 1930, the design was revived with a new variant with the magazine feed on the right and a new foregrip attachment, but other than a potential small sale to Mongolia, this model did not sell. Instead, the Bergmann submachine gun lived on in the form of Haenel's M.P.28.II, and SIG turned their focus to developing their own SMGs.
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