The Italian Front of World War I saw the first use of the submachine gun in combat - the twin-barreled Villar Perosa. Although it was initially used in a support role, as the war progressed the Italian Arditi commandos developed shock tactics with the Villar Perosa and employed them effectively against the Austro-Hungarians in an offensive role. This tactic involved mounting the gun on a wooden tray, which was then strapped around the user's chest to enable "walking fire". In close-quarters trench raids, this proved to be effective and the Austro-Hungarians quickly realized that an equivalent weapon was needed. After some initial attempts - namely the twin-linked Steyr M12/P.16 "Doppelpistole" and the Frommer M.17 - the Austrians decided it would be easiest to simply produce a straight copy of the original Villar Perosa, with the only real difference being a shift in caliber from 9mm Glisenti to the standard Austrian pistol cartridge, 9x23mm Steyr. There were also slight differences in the manufacturing techniques, with some external deviations from the original design, but internally and operationally it was identical to the gun it was based on.

Austrian troops armed with the Sturmpistole during the Caporetto offensive, October 1917
(Austrian National Library)

The Austrian Villar Perosa was produced at the Steyr and Skoda factories and was called the "Sturmpistole". The Sturmpistole was fitted to a wooden tray mount with canvas straps so that it could be carried on the user's back. The tray also acted as a mount for firing from the prone position or from elevated cover. The type of mount was unique to the Sturmpistole - in place of the Villar Perosa's circular "ball" mount, the Sturmpistole used a rectangular piece which contained the front sight post and two grooves on either side, to allow for a gunner's shield to be mounted. The most distinguishing feature of the Sturmpistole, that makes it immediately distinct from the Villar Perosa, was the magazines; the Sturmpistole's are straight rather than curved.

This weapon is sometimes referred to as the "Sturmpistole M.18", although there is evidence (photographs, documents) confirming it was actually introduced just before the Caporetto Offensive of 1917. It was issued to Austrian stormtroopers in the late stages of the war and may have seen additional use during the final confrontations at Vittorio Veneto. No production figures exist - practically all documentation on Austria's SMG projects was destroyed after the war - but it can be assumed that the total number of these guns made was relatively low. Still, there are several surviving examples, all kept in museums and archives.

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