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Soley Model 2 automatic carbine

(Author's photo via Royal Armouries Collection)

This unusual weapon was developed in 1933 by the Soley Armament Company, a firm established after the First World War by Captain John Ball, a former officer of the Royal Flying Corps. The purpose of the company, which was a subsidiary of the larger Birmingham Small Arms Company, was to sell off surplus armaments left over from the First World War. At that time, there were no other companies in Britain exporting small arms, and Soley's name was a play on the fact that it was the 'sole' arms exporter in the country.

In the early 1930s, the Soley company had come into an arrangement with a Belgian gunsmith, Edgard Grimard, whereby Grimard would design modifications for existing weapons in Soley's stock (mostly derived from BSA-produced surplus left over from the war), so that they could be resold as 'new' products. Some of these were done for foreign contracts, such as the rechambering of Pattern 14 rifles into 7.92x57mm Mauser for the Chinese government, but others were built on behalf of the Armaments Design Department at the Royal Small Arms Factory of Enfield for experiment and evaluation. These included a hybrid rifle made from parts of the Pattern 14 and SMLE No. 1 Mk. III, a series of Lewis guns converted to feed from Bren magazines, and this automatic carbine.

The Soley Model 2 is built from a 9x19mm* Beretta Mod. 1918-1930 self-loading carbine from Italy, though it has been so extensively modified that it is barely recognizable as one. The trigger group has been moved forward of the magazine feed, which now acts as a rudimentary pistol grip. It extends back to the hammer via a lengthened trigger bar which passes across the magazine feed. In place of the usual wooden buttstock of the Beretta Mod. 1918-1930 - which has been sawn off - a metal wireframe stock has been mounted to the rear, with two unusual hinged prongs on the rear which seem to be intended to cushion the recoil of the gun against the firer's shoulder. A new barrel has been fitted, along with a lengt though the cavalry-pattern spike bayonet has been retained, which folds into a long recess cut into the underside of the forestock. The upper handguard, typically wooden, has been replaced with a metal barrel shroud with a long series of perforations for air cooling; this resembled the type seen on another Italian submachine gun, the Armaguerra Mod. 1935. The receiver is no different from a standard Mod. 1918-1930 type, except for the replacement of the standard Beretta company markings with
"SOLEY ARMAMENT Co., LONDON, EXPERIMENTAL No. 2, FOR C.I.S.A. ENFIELD" ('C.I.S.A.' refers to the Chief Inspector of Small Arms).

The standard operating principle of the Beretta Mod. 1918-1930 is that of a straight blowback action firing from a closed bolt that only produces single shots per trigger pull, with no rapid-fire function. It utilizes a floating firing pin that is actuated by a hammer. The hammer, in turn, is cocked back by a ring-shaped retractable cocking piece located at the receiver end of the receiver which moves independently of the bolt and does not reciprocate during firing. The unusual shape of this cocking handle earned the Beretta Mod. 1918-1930 the common moniker 'Il Siringone' ('The Syringe'). The magazines were made in 12 and 25 round capacities as standard.

The new configuration applied by the Soley Company to the Beretta Mod. 1918-1930, which was highly unusual for its time, transforms the weapon into a quasi-bullpup arm. However, as opposed to typical bullpup designs, no great effort has been made to greatly reduce the overall length of the gun, which measures at 33 inches (840 mm) - only 2.3 inches (60 mm) less than the Beretta carbine in standard configuration, which is about 35 inches (900 mm) in length. Therefore it is likely that the rationale for moving the trigger forward of the magazine was not really to create a more compact weapon, as bullpups typically are intended to be, but rather an experiment in handling and ergonomics.

No serious trials of the Soley Model 2 automatic carbine were ever undertaken. The Small Arms Committee did observe a test of this weapon in 1933, describing it as a "Beretta arm on loan from the Soley Armament Company", which gave "quite promising results". However they noted that "this arm was not for sale"; the probable reason for this was that it was not made under license from Beretta. If more interest had been shown in adopting a weapon like this, then perhaps the Soley Company would have pursued a deal with Beretta, but this was never going to be a likely course of action and it would appear that the weapon was made entirely for demonstrative purposes.

*Specifically the 9x19mm Glisenti cartridge, which is dimensionally identical to the more popular 9x19mm Parabellum cartridge but was made with a slightly less powerful charge. It is important to stress that weapons designed for 9x19mm Glisenti, such as the Beretta Mod. 1918-1930, should not be loaded or fired with 9x19mm Parabellum cartridges.

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