Back to database

Schwarzlose submachine gun

[DE] Maschinenpistole Schwarzlose

(Photo: Tula State University)

In 1917, the Imperial German Army commissioned the development of an automatic weapon firing pistol cartridges, intended as a replacement for the Luger LP 08 carbine. The first weapons of the "Maschinenpistole" type had been tested in 1915 and 1917; the MP Luger and MP Senn models respectively, which were both conversions of the Luger P 08 into fully-automatic machine pistols firing uninterrupted shots. These guns had extended barrels and buttstocks, so as to handle more like a carbine than a pistol, and the Preußisch Kriegsminiterium began to consider the adoption of an automatic pistol-calibre carbine made along these lines. By the late months of 1917, two new designs had been submitted to the Preuß. KM: the Maschinenpistole Bergmann, developed at the Theodor Bergmann Abteilung Waffenbau in Suhl, and the Maschinenpistole Schwarzlose, by the Andreas Schwarzlose Gesellschaft für Waffenerzeugnisse in Berlin. The MP Bergmann, designed by engineer Hugo Schmeisser, is already well-known and needs little introduction. The MP Schwarzlose, however, did not enjoy the same good fortune as the Bergmann gun and went almost completely forgotten until its recent rediscovery in the last decade.

The internal action of the MP Schwarzlose resembled that of a scaled-down Maxim gun, operating on a recoil operation assisted by a toggle lock. The main deviation from the Maxim action was the feed system, which was not a continuous belt feed; instead the MP Schwarzlose fed from a stack of 10-round metal strips which were contained within an internal magazine mounted on the left side of the receiver. A column of 8 of these strips sat on a follower inside the magazine which elevated them toward the feed opening. As the foremost strip was fed into the receiver by the left side and ejected out of the right once it had been expended, whereupon the follower would elevate the second strip into the feed position. This system was far more complex than a simple detachable magazine feed, as the MP Bergmann used, but it did allow the MP Schwarzlose to carry a greater capacity of rounds, totaling 80 (compared to the Bergmann's 32). However it must be assumed that 80 cartridges being contained on the left side of the receiver probably resulted in this weapon having a poor center of balance.

The magazine system employed by the MP Schwarzlose was not actually proprietary to this weapon. In had in fact been patented by Schwarzlose as early as 1902, originally intended for full-sized machine guns, but was implemented into his submachine gun 15 years later. The closest comparable feed system to this Schwarzlose type was that of the Perino machine gun made in Italy, though it is not known whether the Perino had any influence on Schwarzlose.
The stock design of the MP Schwarzlose was unusual, in that it was elevated high over the bore. This meant that the front and rear sights had to be heightened so as to align with the user's line-of-sight. The MP Schwarzlose also had several additional features, including an oiler contained within the buttstock, and a latch at the bottom of the pistol grip which was intended to act as a mounting point for a spade attachment. This very unusual alternative to a traditional mount, such as a bipod, was clearly designed with trench warfare in mind and was the subject of Schwarzlose's patent of the 31st of March 1920.

Andreas Schwarzlose's patents of 31/03/1920 (left), protecting the spade attachment for the MP Schwarzlose, and 01/10/1903 (right), protecting the
layered strip feed mechanism (originally for rifle cartridges). No patent can be found for the gun itself, which was likely never patented as it operates on
the Maxim action.

According to contemporary documentation, the MP Schwarzlose project was developed collaboratively between the Germany and Austria-Hungary. The Schwarzlose plant in Berlin found that, owing to the pressures of the war, they could not spare many resources to work on the manufacture of this gun, so the Preuß. KM came into an arrangement with the K.u.K. KM in Vienna that the ŒWG factory in Steyr, who had a pre-existing business relationship with Schwarzlose (ŒWG manufactured the Schwarzlose M.7 machine gun under license for the Austro-Hungarian Army), would assist in the production of the MP Schwarzlose. A target of 100 guns was agreed, to be made at both Schwarzlose and
ŒWG, with the Germans interested in arranging comparative trials of both types.

In November 1917, the Schwarzlose company informed the K.u.K. KM that development of the MP Schwarzlose was far enough along that testing could begin in Germany. Vienna interpreted this to mean that the Germans had managed to make room for the production of the MP Schwarzlose and, interested in arranging their own trials for the weapon, placed an order for 10 guns in 9x23mm Steyr. However, Schwarzlose had in fact only made a handful of prototype models, and had not began production, so they could only spare 1 gun to Austria-Hungary, which was sent to ŒWG as a study model. The plans and production specifications were also provided to ŒWG so that they could set up the necessary tooling to manufacture the weapon. In February 1918, the K.u.K. KM was still awaiting the delivery of the 10 requested guns, but remained optimistic about the project and planned for comparative trials between the MP Schwarzlose and the Sturmpistole produced by Škoda, which was a copy of the Italian Villar Perosa.

By March 1918, still no real progress had been made by the Schwarzlose company, with the Austrian attaché to Berlin writing that the completion of the 100 guns could not be expected for another couple of months. Therefore the 10 guns requested by the K.u.K. KM could not be provided at that time and it is ultimately not known whether they ever were. Due to these significant delays, no comprehensive evaluation of the MP Schwarzlose could be undertaken in comparison to the MP Bergmann; Ernst von Wrisberg, writing in 1922, reported that the ensuing trials resulted in "the introduction of the Maschinenpistole Bergmann in the spring of 1918, after the development of a model of a Maschinenpistole Schwarzlose, which was excellent in itself, that could be used for mass production had not been completed in time". After this, the MP Schwarzlose project seems to have petered out, with the immediate requirement for a weapon of the maschinenpistole type having been satisfied by the adoption of the MP Bergmann.

The production status at ŒWG is also controversial.
Mötz & Schuy report that no production of the MP Schwarzlose at Steyr ever took place, and that the joint Austro-German trials never got past the planning stage. R.K. Wilson, writing in 1934 and basing his information on the testimony of an unnamed Austrian officer, indicated that the project may have actually gotten a little further along than Mötz & Schuy describe; he wrote that ŒWG had in fact finished tooling up to produce a submachine gun (he did not specify the model) by November 1918, but that the armistice interrupted the project before any significant manufacture could be undertaken, and any study samples of this gun that existed at Steyr were confiscated and destroyed by the Inter-Allied Commission of Control after the war.

At least two examples of the Schwarzlose submachine gun are known to still exist today, both kept in Russia. One gun, at the Artillery Museum in Saint Petersburg, has an elevated buttstock and is missing its magazine. The other has retained its magazine and is held at the Tula State University.

Known surviving models:

Collection Location Notes Condition
Tula State University
Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineers and Signal Corps Saint Petersburg,
Parts missing
Appears good

Resources used:

  • Josef Mötz & Joschi Schuy, Die Weiterentwicklung der Selbstladepistole I (Laxenburg: Mag. Josef Mötz, 2013)
    Mötz & Schuy provide details, from Austro-Hungarian archive documents, of the joint development of this weapon between the Prussian and K.u.K. Ministries of War. At the time of writing, Mötz & Schuy did not actually know what this weapon was, as the K.u.K. documents provide no photographs of it; it was only after the book's publication that the MP Schwarzlose was linked to the two surviving prototypes in Russia.
  • Ernst von Wrisberg, Erinnerungen an die kriegsjahre im königlich preussischen kriegsministerium: Wehr und Waffen, 1914 - 1918 (Leipzig: K.F. Koehler, 1922)
    Von Wrisberg was the director of the Preußisches Kriegsministerium from 1917 - 1918. In this work, which was largely dedicated to defending the military record of the German Army during the war and promoting the "Stab-in-the-Back" myth, von Wrisberg makes passing mention of the development of the MP Schwarzlose.
  • R.K. Wilson, Textbook of Automatic Pistols (Plantersville: Small Arms Technical Publishing, 1943)
  • Wilson relies on testimony from an anonymous Austrian officer who claims that ŒWG was ready to manufacture a submachine gun for the Austro-Hungarian Army by the end of the war, but that it never came into use.