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Steyr M.12/P16 machine-pistol

Maschinenpistole M.12 Patrone 16

M.12/P16
(Photo: firearms.96.lt)

This weapon was reportedly commissioned at the end of 1915 and developed at the Österreichische Waffenfabriksgesellschaft under the direction of Major Franz Xaver Fuchs, commander of Standschützen-Bataillon Innsbruck II. Major Fuchs was, curiously, a painter by trade, not an engineer. Prior to the war, he tutored at the Franziskanergymnasium in Tyrol. Interestingly, another Standschützen officer - one Herr Hellriegel - also developed a submachine gun-type weapon that was tested in Tyrol in late 1915, implying that there was some interest in machine-pistols and SMGs within Tyrolean Standschützen regiments in particular. The exact reason for this is not entirely known although it is likely that they realized from an early date that light automatic weapons would be required in an alpine conflict with Italy.

The M.12/P16 machine-pistol was an automatic conversion of the standard Steyr M.12 service pistol, and the operation was unchanged, incorporating a short recoil action in which the barrel and slide recoiled together until the barrel was forced into a 20° rotation by two locking lugs until the slide returned forward. The only technical difference between the standard M.12 and the M.12/P16 was the addition of a fire selector switch which allowed uninterrupted automatic fire, situated on the right side of the trigger group. The selector mechanism basically consisted of two 'arms' - a long 'arm' which was the selector switch itself, and a short 'arm' which acted as a trigger link - both pinned to the trigger group by connecting screw. The screw passed through the selector switch first, the trigger link second, and the lastly the trigger itself. The bottom of the trigger link was itself pinned to the trigger piece. When the selector switch was flipped up, the screw would turn and drag the trigger link backward, which in turn would place pressure on the trigger itself and hold the sear down. Thus, when the trigger was pulled fully, the pinned-down sear would be prevented from interrupting the action. This gave an automatic fire rate of about 800 rounds per minute.

M12P16patent
Patent sketches of the M.12/P16's fire selector.

By February 1916, a batch of 50 prototypes were delivered for field trials and were issued to Major Fuchs' battalion. These early models fed from the M.12's standard 8-round internal magazine and, against a firing rate of 800rpm, they could only fire off a short burst or two before depleting. This was somewhat remedied in the full production model, which extended the internal magazine to 16 rounds - an improvement, but still less than ideal. Topping off the magazine, either by feeding two 8- round clips or manually loading each cartridge by hand, was also slow and cumbersome compared to a detachable magazine feed. It is because of this extended magazine that the weapon earned its "P16" suffix, standing for Patrone 16 ("16 cartridges") - contrary to some reports, "P16" is not in reference to the year 1916.

After a successful trial phase, the M.12/P16 was accepted into service, reportedly with an order of some 5,000 units being placed. They were issued exclusively on the Italian Front, to bolster the firepower of Tyrolean regiments fighting in the Alps. It is not known whether they were actually fielded as trench-clearing assault weapons as is commonly assumed; Austria in 1916 was fighting a mostly defensive war against the Italians, and there is no indication that the weapon was commissioned for use by shock troops, although it is certainly possible that they were issued to some Sturmbataillons in 1917.

FrommerTesting
The testing of two machine-pistols in 1917 - the Frommer M.17 and Steyr M.12/P16.

As evidence of the Villar Perosa's influence on Austrian submachine gun concepts, a contraption was developed for the M.12/P16 known as the Doppelpistole ("double-pistol"). This was simply a double mount that fitted two M.12/P16s to a central wooden buttstock in an attempt to make it "double-barrelled". A wooden carrying case, similar to that issued with the Villar Perosa, was also made for the Doppelpistole, although the idea seems to have been experimental and never came into wide issue. It may have been intended as a fixture for aircraft.

The M.12/P16 remained in service throughout the war, and was apparently produced in surprisingly large numbers. An inventory taken in Tyrol at the end of the war reported some 9,873 units in issue. In spite of this, the physical evidence for such a large number having been produced is scant. Only a handful of examples exist today, most of which are low serial numbers, leaving some experts to have estimated that less than a thousand were made (Thomas Nelson claimed around 900). It is possible that most examples were destroyed by the Inter-Allied Commission after World War I, but this is merely speculation. The associated patent for the fire-selector was finally approved in December 1919, having been applied for three years earlier, although there is nothing to suggest that the weapon was ever produced again after the armistice. Claims that M.12/P16 machine-pistols were rebarreled in 9x19mm Parabellum and issued with silencers to Waffen-SS commandos in World War II are unverified.

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