Unidentified 9x23mm machine pistol


This is an early SMG of an unusual design, dating to around the World War I period. It is currently held in the Canadian War Museum in Ottowa. The maker is unknown, as there are no markings, although all the available evidence points to Austrian origin. It is chambered in the 9x23mm Steyr cartridge, the standard pistol cartridge of the Austrian Army of the time, and has shows obvious design influence from the standard Austrian service pistol, the Steyr M.12. It is built around the recoil action, with a reciprocating spring-loaded barrel that is designed to rotate against a cam slot on the barrel extension. The barrel extension engages a set of locking lugs on the bolt face. The recoil spring runs from the bolt through into the stock; note the partial in-line section of the stock through which the spring is housed. The gun is designed to fire from an open bolt and the cocking handle is a retractable tab located just underneath the adjustable rear sight.

This SMG is also significant in that it is the first known submachine gun to feed magazines from the pistol grip. Although the magazine itself is now missing, the magazine housing can be observed in the grip, with a mag catch located at the bottom. There is also an open ejector at the top of the receiver in which it seems possible to feed stripper clips, probably of the type used by the Steyr M.12 pistol. The intended magazine capacity is not known. On the left side of the receiver is a rotating fire selector switch, marked "D-E-S", standing for the German words "Dauerfeuer", "Einzelfeuer", and "Sicherung" - full-auto, single-fire, and safety respectively. This feature in and of itself was quite forward-thinking for the time period, as the most successful WWI SMG, the Bergmann, did not feature a fire selector at all and fired in full-auto only. The earlier Fiat-Revelli SMG prototype from Italy did also have a similar selector.

The disassembled 9x23mm machine pistol.

The question is: was this gun made during the war, or just afterward? Given that the majority of post-war SMGs used a straight blowback action patterned after the Bergmann, it is more likely that this gun dates to the late WWI period, as it would have already been an outdated design by the 1920s. It would certainly seem that the designers of this gun had little to no knowledge of other SMGs and were working to build a weapon based on the principles of a Steyr pistol, rather than anything like the Bergmann or Thompson guns. It is also unlikely that there would have been any demand for such a weapon in post-war Austria, especially since the country's domestic arms industry was heavily restricted by the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

R.K. Wilson wrote in 1943 that the Austrians had actually established the tooling equipment at Steyr to produce a submachine gun in late 1918, but that the war ended before full production could begin and all the prototypes and associated documentation were destroyed by the Inter-Allied Commission of Control. Thomas B. Nelson also attested to this in The World's Submachine Guns and it seems likely, given Austria-Hungary's interest in the SMG concept, that it is probably true. With this information, it can be reasonably assumed that this unidentified prototype is, in fact, a surviving example - perhaps the sole example - of the mystery Steyr 1918 SMG, and was confiscated by the Allies after the war.

Gallery (click to enlarge)

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